Understanding avian nest predation: Why ornithologists should study snakes

Patrick J. Weatherhead, Gabriel Blouin-Demers

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Despite the overriding importance of nest predation for most birds, our understanding of the relationship between birds and their nest predators has been developed largely without reliable information on the identity of the predators. Miniature video cameras placed at nests are changing that situation and in six of eight recent studies of New World passerine birds, snakes were the most important nest predators. Several areas of research stand to gain important insights from understanding more about the snakes that prey on birds' nests. Birds nesting in fragmented habitats often experience increased nest predation. Snakes could be attracted to habitat edges because they are thermally superior habitats, coincidentally increasing predation, or snakes could be attracted directly by greater prey abundance in edges. Birds might reduce predation risk from snakes by nesting in locations inaccessible to snakes or in locations that are thermally inhospitable to snakes, although potentially at some cost to themselves or their young. Nesting birds should also modify their behavior to reduce exposure to visually orienting snakes. Ornithologists incorporating snakes into their ecological or conservation research need to be aware of practical considerations, including sampling difficulties and logistical challenges associated with quantifying snake habitat use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)185-190
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Avian Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2004
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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