Nest monitoring does not affect nesting success of Whinchats Saxicola rubetra

Author(s): Border, J.A., Atkinson, L.R., Henderson, I.G., Hartley, I.R.
Published: 2017
Journal: IBIS
Digital Identifier No.: 10.1111/ibi.12574


It is important to assess the effect that research activities may have on animals in the wild, especially when key parameters, such as breeding success, could potentially be influenced by observer activity. For birds, some studies have suggested that nest monitoring can increase the chances of nest failure due to predation, while others suggest that human nest visits may actually deter mammalian predators. Nest monitoring visits can also influence breeding success more indirectly by altering parental provisioning behaviour. Here, the influence of monitoring activities on nest success was examined in a ground-nesting, grassland bird, the Whinchat Saxicola rubetra. First, during the egg phase a sample of nests were not visited between the initial finding event and the estimated hatching date; instead the nest status was assessed at a distance. Daily survival rates (DSR) for these nests were compared to nests visited every two days. Second, during the nestling phase, the effects of observer nest visits on parental provisioning behaviour were determined. Nest visits were found not to significantly affect egg DSR and parental provisioning was disrupted for a maximum of 20 minutes (0.52% of the nestling period) following an observer visit. Given the variation in response to nest visits across species, we suggest that consideration should be given to observer impact in all studies where predation risk is high. Here, we illustrate a method for researchers to assess the impact of their nest visits to ensure they are not biasing estimates of breeding success.

Publication links

Link to Article (DOI: 10.1111/ibi.12574)