Snake activity affects seasonal variation in nest predation risk for birds

Jinelle H. Sperry, Rebecca G. Peak, David A. Cimprich, Patrick J. Weatherhead

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Variation in predator behavior has been proposed, but not tested, as a mechanism producing seasonal declines in avian nest success. We test this hypothesis by documenting seasonal activity of Texas ratsnakes Elaphe obsoleta and nest failure of endangered black-capped vireos Vireo atricapilla and golden-cheeked warblers Dendroica chrysoparia on which the snakes prey. Nest survival analysis was based on 880 vireo and 228 warbler nests and 3,060 snake locations from 62 radio-tracked snakes. Although nest success varied with snake activity for both birds, specific patterns differed substantially. Vireo daily nest survival was negatively correlated with snake activity over the three-year study, despite substantial variation among years in weather, and the fact that these birds are almost certainly a minor prey species of the ratsnakes. Warblers exhibited less clear-cut seasonal variation in nest success, and the association between nest success and snake activity was less pronounced than for vireos. Increased activity at warmer temperatures explained some of the seasonal change in snake movements, although mating may have accounted for a mid-season peak in activity. These results indicate that variation in predator behavior can be associated with and potentially cause seasonal changes in nest success, but also that these relationships are species specific even within the same community and may depend on aspects of the nesting ecology of the prey such as nest site selection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)379-383
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Avian Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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