Biodiversity & Conservation

, Volume 14, Issue 8, pp 1823–1840 | Cite as

Providing nest boxes for hole-nesting birds – Does habitat matter?

  • Raivo MändEmail author
  • Vallo Tilgar
  • Asko Lõhmus
  • &Agu Leivits


Nest boxes are a popular management tool to increase nest site availability for hole-nesting birds, but biological consequences of this technique in different habitats are poorly studied. In our study area in southwestern Estonia, nest boxes for small passerines were set up in deciduous and coniferous woods. Great tits Parus major preferred the food-rich deciduous habitat for breeding, as judged by higher nest-box occupation, earlier egg-laying and larger clutches and eggs. However, in coniferous habitat more and heavier young fledged per nest, and the return rate of both fledglings and adults was higher. We propose two mutually non-exclusive explanations, both related to the maladaptive outcome of the provision of nest boxes: (i) in the preferred habitat, nest boxes caused a supra-optimal breeding density leading to an ecological trap; (ii) boxes drastically improved the non-preferred habitat, but birds were unable to exploit the breeding habitat fully. One should be careful in providing large numbers of artificial nest sites in preferred habitats. Sometimes it would be more preferable to improve less favourable habitats by removing critical constraints.


Ecological trap Habitat preference Nest boxes Parus major Reproductive success Spatial heterogeneity 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Alatalo, R.V., Lundberg, A. 1984Density-dependence in breeding success of the pied flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca)Journal of Animal Ecology53969977Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Alatalo, R.V., Lundberg, A., Ulfstrand, S. 1985Habitat selection in the Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleucaCody, M.L. eds. Habitat Selection in BirdsAcademic PressNew York5983Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Angelstam, P., Anufriev, V., Balciauskas, L., Blagovidov, A., Borgegård, S.-O., Hodge, S.,  et al. 1997Biodiversity and sustainable forestry in European forests – how west and east can learn from each otherWildlife Society Bulletin253848Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Arcese, P., Smith, J.N.M. 1988Effects of population density and supplemental food on reproduction in song sparrowsJournal of Animal Ecology57119136Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Ausden, M. 1996InvertebratesSutherland, W.J. eds. Ecological Census Techniques: A HandbookCambridge University PressCambridgeUK139177Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Bernstein, C., Krebs, J.R., Kacelnik, A. 1995Distribution of birds amongst habitats: theory and relevance to conservationPerrins, C.M.Lebreton, J.-D.Hirons, G.J.M. eds. Bird Population Studies. Relevance to Conservation and ManagementOxford University PressOxfordUK317345Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Burkhardt, J.F., Schlund, W., Stauss, M.J. 1998Scale effects of habitat selection in breeding nuthatches (Sitta europaea) in two different woodlandsJournal für Ornithologie1393748CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Cade, T.J., Bird, D.M. 1990Peregrine falcons, Falco peregrinusnesting in an urban environment: a reviewCanadian Field Naturalist104209218Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Catalan, R.M., Haeger, J.F. 1996Breeding patterns of the great tit (Parus major) in a pine plantation and a holm oak forest in a Mediterranean region (souther Spain)Revue dȁ9 Ecologie–La Terre et la Vie51341357Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Clark, R.G., Shutler, D. 1999Avian habitat selection: pattern from process in nest-site use by ducks?Ecology80272287Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Cramp, S.Perrins, C.M. eds. 1993Handbook of the Birds of Europethe Middle East and North Africa Vol. 7Oxford University PressOxfordUKGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Debinski, D.M., Holt, R.D. 2000A survey and overview of habitat fragmentation experimentsConservation Biology14342355CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Delibes, M., Gaona, P., Ferreras, P. 2001aEffects of an attractive sink leading into maladaptive habitat selectionAmerican Naturalist158277285Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Delibes, M., Ferreras, P., Gaona, P. 2001bAttractive sinks, or how individual behavioural decisions determine source-sink dynamicsEcology Letters4401403CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Dias, P.C. 1996Sources and sinks in population biologyTrends in Ecology and Evolution11 326330CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Donovan, T.M., Lamberson, R.H. 2001Area-sensitive distributions counteract negative effects of habitat fragmentation on breeding birdsEcology8211701179Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Donovan, T.M., Thompson, F.R.,III 2001Modeling the ecological trap hypothesis: a habitat and demographic analysis for migrant songbirdsEcological Applications11871882Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Drent, P.J. 1984Mortality and dispersal in summer and its consequences for the density of great tits Parus major at the onset of autumnArdea72127162Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Drent, P.J. 1987The importance of nestboxes for territory settlementsurvival and density of the great titArdea755971Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    East, M.L., Perrins, C.M. 1988Effect of nestboxes on breeding populations of birds in temperate woodlandsIbis130393401Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Enoksson, B., Angelstam, P., Larsson, K. 1995Deciduous forest and resident birds: the problem of fragmentation within a coniferous landscapeLandscape Ecology10267275Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Esseen, P.A., Ehnström, B., Ericson, L., Sjöberg, K. 1997Boreal forestsEcological Bulletin461647Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Fretwell, S.D., Lucas, H.L.,Jr. 1969On territorial behavior and other factors influencing habitat distribution in birds. I. Theoretical developmentActa Biotheoretica191636Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Föger, M., Pegoraro, K. 1996Über den Einfluss der Nahrung auf die Eigrösse der Kohlmeise Parus majorJournal für Ornithologie136329335Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Gates, J.E., Gysel, L.W. 1978Avian nest dispersion and fledging success in field-forest ecotonesEcology58871883Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Gosler, A.G., Wilson, J. 1997The Great TitParus majorHagemeijer, W.J.M.Blair, M.J. eds. The EBCC Atlas of European Breeding Birds: Their Distribution and AbundancePoyserLondon644645Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Haapanen A, . 1965Bird fauna of the Finnish forests in relation to forest succession, IAnnales Zoologici Fennici2153196Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Hayward, G.D., Steinhorst, R.K., Hayward, P.H. 1992Monitoring boreal owl populations with nest boxes: sample size and costJournal of Wildlife Management56777785Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Hildén, O. 1965Habitat selection in birds: a reviewAnnales Zoologici Fennici25375Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Hinsley, S.A., Rothery, P., Bellamy, P.E. 1999Influence of woodland area on breeding success in great tits Parus majorblue tits Parus caeruleusJournal of Avian Biology30271281Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Holyoak, M., Ray, C. 1999A roadmap for metapopulation researchEcol. Lett.2273275Google Scholar
  32. 33.
    Hõrak, P., Mänd, R., Ots, I. 1997Identifying targets of selection: a multivariate analysis of reproductive traits in the great titOikos78592600Google Scholar
  33. 32.
    Huhta, E., Jokimäki, J., Rahko, P. 1998Distribution and reproductive success of the pied flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca in relation to forest patch size and vegetation characteristics – the effect of scaleIbis140214222Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Kluijver, H.N. 1951The population ecology of the great titParus m. major LArdea391132Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Kneitz, G. 1961Zur Frage der Verteilung von Spechthöhlen und die Ausrichtung des FluglochsWaldhygiene480120Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Kokko, H., Sutherland, W.J. 1998Optimal floating and queuing strategies: consequences for density dependence and habitat lossAmerican Naturalist152354366Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Kokko, H., Sutherland, W.J. 2001Ecological traps in changing environments: ecological and evolutionary consequences of a behaviourally mediated Allee effectEvolutionary Ecology Research3537551Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Kristan, W.B.,III. 2003The role of habitat selection behavior in population dynamics: source–sink systems and ecological trapsOikos103457468Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Lemel, J. 1989Habitat distribution in the great tit Parus major in relation to reproductive success, dominanceand biometryOrnis Scandinavica20226233Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Lens, L., Dhondt, A.A . 1994Effects of habitat fragmentation on the timing of crested tit Parus cristatus natal dispersalIbis136147152Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Loman, J. 2003Small habitat islands are inferior breeding habitats but are used by some great tits – competition or ignorance?Biodiversity and Conservation1214671479Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    Lundberg, A., Alatalo, R.V., Carlson, A., Ulfstrand, S. 1981Biometry, habitat distribution and breeding success in the pied flycatcher Ficedula hypoleucaOrnis Scandinavica126879Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    McKenney, D.W., Lindenmayer, D.B. 1994An economic assessment of a nest box strategy for the conservation of an endangered speciesCanadian Journal of Forest Research2420122019Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    Mägi M. and Mänd R. 2004. Habitat differences in allocation of eggs between successive breeding attempts in great tits (Parus major). Ecoscience 11 (in press) Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    Mänd, R., Nigul, A., Sein, E. 1986Oomorphology: a new methodAuk103613617Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    Mänd, R., Tilgar, V., Leivits, A. 2000aCalciumsnails, and birds: a case studyWeb Ecology1 6369Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    Mänd, R., Tilgar, V., Leivits, A. 2000bReproductive response of great tits, Parus majorin a naturally base-poor forest habitat to calcium supplementationCanadian Journal of Zoology78689695Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    Mänd, R., Tilgar, V. 2003Does supplementary calcium reduce the cost of reproduction in the pied flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca?Ibis1456777Google Scholar
  49. 49.
    Meffe, G.K., Carroll, C.R. 1994Principles of Conservation BiologySinauer Associates, Inc.SunderlandMAGoogle Scholar
  50. 50.
    Mols, C.M.M., Visser, M.E. 2002Great tits can reduce caterpillar damage in apple orchards Journal of Applied Ecology39888899Google Scholar
  51. 51.
    Muller, K.L., Stamps, J.A., Krishnan, V.V., Willits, N.H. 1997The effects of conspecific attraction and habitat quality on habitat selection in territorial birds (Troglodytes aedon)American Naturalist150650661Google Scholar
  52. 52.
    Nager, R.G. 1993On the timing of breeding of Great Tits (Parus major) in relation to local environmental conditionsBasel UniversityBasel, SwitzerlandPh.D. ThesisGoogle Scholar
  53. 53.
    Newton, I. 1998Population Limitation in BirdsAcademic PressLondonGoogle Scholar
  54. 54.
    Orell, M., Ojanen, M. 1983Effect of habitatdate of laying and density on clutch size of the great tit Parus major in northern FinlandHolarctic Ecology6413423Google Scholar
  55. 55.
    Orell, M., Ojanen, M. 1986Relation of fitness of female great tits to clutch size and number of broodsOrnis Fennica63120127Google Scholar
  56. 56.
    Owens, I.A., Bennett, P.M. 2000Ecological basis of extinction risk in birds: habitat loss versus human persecution and introduced predatorsProc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA971214412148PubMedGoogle Scholar
  57. 57.
    Partridge, L. 1974Habitat selection in titmiceNature247573574Google Scholar
  58. 58.
    Perrins, C.M. 1991Tits and their caterpillar food supplyIbis1334954Google Scholar
  59. 59.
    Pöysä, H., Pöysä, S. 2002Nest-site limitation and density dependence of reproductive output in the common goldeneye Bucephala clangula: implications for the management of cavity-nesting birdsJournal of Applied Ecology39502510Google Scholar
  60. 60.
    Pulliam, H.R. 1988Sources, sinks, and population regulationAmerican Naturalist132652661Google Scholar
  61. 61.
    Pulliam, H.R., Danielson, B.J. 1991Sources, sinks and habitat selection: a landscape perspective on population dynamicsAmerican Naturalist137S50S66Google Scholar
  62. 62.
    Ramsay, S.L., Houston, D.C. 1997Nutritional constraints on egg production in the blue tit: a supplementary feeding studyJournal of Animal Ecology66649657Google Scholar
  63. 63.
    Riddington, R., Gosler, A.G. 1995Differences in reproductive success and parental qualities between habitats in the great tit Parus majorIbis137371378Google Scholar
  64. 64.
    Rodenhouse, N.L., Sherry, T.W., Holmes, R.T. 1997Site-dependent regulation of population size: a new synthesisEcology7820252042Google Scholar
  65. 65.
    Rosenzweig, M.L. 1981A theory of habitat selectionEcology62327335Google Scholar
  66. 66.
    Sandström, U. 1992Cavities in trees; their occurrenceformation and importance for hole-nesting birds in relation to silvicultural practice. Department of Wildlife Ecology Report no. 23Swedish University of Agricultural SciencesUppsalaSwedenGoogle Scholar
  67. 67.
    Sanz, J.J. 1998Effects of geographic location and habitat on breeding parameters of great titsAuk11510341051Google Scholar
  68. 68.
    Sanz, J.J. 2001Experimentally increased insectivorous bird density results in a reduction of caterpillar density and leaf damage to Pyrenean oakEcological Research16387394Google Scholar
  69. 69.
    Sanz, J.J., Moreno, J. 1995Experimentally induced clutch size enlargements affect reproductive success in the pied flycatcherOecologia103358364Google Scholar
  70. 70.
    Schlaepfer, M.A., Runge, M.C., Sherman, P.W. 2002Ecological and evolutionary trapsTrends in Ecology and Evolution17474480Google Scholar
  71. 71.
    Schoener, T.W. 1968Sizes of feeding territories among birdsEcology49123139Google Scholar
  72. 72.
    Semel, B., Sherman, P.W. 2001Intraspecific parasitism and nest-site competition in wood ducksAnimal Behaviour61787803Google Scholar
  73. 73.
    Siikamäki, P. 1995Habitat quality and reproductive traits in the pied flycatcher – an experimentEcology76308312Google Scholar
  74. 74.
    Smith, T.M., Shugart, H.H. 1987Territory size variation in the ovenbird: the role of habitat structureEcology68695704Google Scholar
  75. 75.
    Solonen, T. 1996Patterns and variations in the structure of forest birds communities in southern FinlandOrnis Fennica731226Google Scholar
  76. 76.
    Sutherland, W.J. 1996From Individual Behaviour to Population EcologyOxford University PressOxfordUKGoogle Scholar
  77. 77.
    Tilgar, V., Mänd, R., Leivits, A. 1999Effect of calcium availability and habitat quality on reproduction in pied flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca and great tit Parus majorJournal of Avian Biology30383391Google Scholar
  78. 78.
    Tilgar, V., Mänd, R., Mägi, M. 2002Calcium shortage as a constraint on reproduction in great tits Parus major: a field experimentJournal of Avian Biology33407413Google Scholar
  79. 79.
    Török, J., Toth, L. 1988Density dependence in reproduction of the collared flycatcher (Ficedula albicollis) at high population levelsJournal of Animal Ecology57251258Google Scholar
  80. 80.
    Ulfstrand, S., Alatalo, R., Carlson, A., Lundberg, A. 1981Habitat distribution and body size of the great tit (Parus major)Ibis123494499Google Scholar
  81. 81.
    van Balen, J.H. 1973A comparative study of the breeding ecology of the great tit Parus major in different habitatsArdea55159Google Scholar
  82. 82.
    van Balen, J.H., Booy, C.J.H., van Franeker, J.A., Osieck, E.R. 1982Studies on hole-nesting birds in natural nest sites. 1. Availability and occupation of natural nest sitesArdea70124Google Scholar
  83. 83.
    van Dorp, D., Opdam, P.F.M. 1987Effects of patch sizeisolation and regional abundance on forest bird communitiesLandscape Ecology15973Google Scholar
  84. 84.
    Watkinson, A.R., Sutherland, W.J. 1995Sources, sinks and pseudo-sinksJournal of Animal Ecology64126130Google Scholar
  85. 85.
    Wesolowski, T. 2001High ectoparasite loads in hole-nesting birds – a nestbox bias?Journal of Avian Biology32281285Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Raivo Mänd
    • 1
    Email author
  • Vallo Tilgar
    • 1
  • Asko Lõhmus
    • 1
  • &Agu Leivits
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Zoology and Hydrobiology, Centre of Basic and Applied EcologyUniversity of TartuTartuEstonia

Personalised recommendations