Variation in nest defense in ducks: Methodological and biological insights

Michelle A. Gunness, Patrick J. Weatherhead

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Studies of avian nest defense generally explain only a small proportion of the total variation in defense behavior. We explored two potential methodological sources of variation in nest defense in three species of ducks. One common method of quantifying nest defense rests on the assumption that different components of nest defense (e.g. flushing distance, distraction displays) are highly positively correlated. Defense behaviors we observed in this study were weakly related or unrelated to each other. Thus, the assumption of strong positive covariance between components of nest defense was not supported. We also considered the effect of repeated visits to the same nests on nest defense. Females of all three species took less risk defending their nests with repeated visits, and the effect of visit number on nest defense was greater than the effect of increasing value of nests associated with advancing incubation. Ducks appear to be different from other birds in the consistency with which they alter their nest defense in response to repeated nest visits. We propose that this could be a consequence of having nest predators that return to the vicinity of a nest if they were previously unsuccessful finding the nest, thus making repeated nest visits more dangerous to the ducks. By testing this or other hypotheses it should be possible to go beyond understanding the methodological implications of the effect of repeated visits on nest defense, and use this phenomenon to gain insight into the predator-prey interactions that underlie nest defense.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)191-198
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Avian Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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