Parent birds should take greater risks defending nests that have a higher probability of success. Given high rates of mammalian nest predation, therefore, parents should risk more for nests in areas with a lower risk of mammalian predation. We tested this hypothesis using nest defence data from over 1300 nests of six species of dabbling ducks studied in an area where predation risk had been reduced through removal of mammalian predators. When predator removal reduced nest predation, the ducks increased risk taking as predicted. Also as predicted, risk taking varied inversely with body size, an index of annual survival, among species. For ducks to vary nest defence in response to variation in predation risk they must be able to assess the risk of nest predation. Because ducks modified nest defence in the breeding season immediately following predator removal, ducks may be able to assess predator abundance indirectly (e.g. by UV reflection from urine) rather than by seeing or interacting directly with the predators.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Animal Science and Zoology