Does egg colour affect predation rate on open passerine nests?
The breeding success of many passerines is strongly reduced by egg predation. The adaptive significance of egg crypsis in open nesters is often taken for granted, but visually searching predators may first detect the nest or adult bird and not the eggs. Götmark predicted that selection should favour egg crypsis in the absence of conspicuous nests, whereas birds with conspicuous nests should have non-cryptic eggs. I compared the effect of egg colour treatment (white, blue, brown-spotted) on nest survival (1) among species characterized by different egg coloration, nest size and nest placement, and (2) between relatively well and poorly concealed nests within species. I used artificial nests (n=1,296) and eggs mimicking (except in egg colour) those of the yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella), blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) and song thrush (Turdus philomelos). Concurrently, I monitored survival of real nests (n=1,106). Nest survival differed among species, increased with nest concealment and throughout the breeding season, but was not significantly related to egg colour in any species. Nevertheless, the data for the yellowhammer suggest a trend in survival rates across the colour treatments. Brown eggs survived better than white eggs by 11% and 4% in 2 years, but this study had insufficient power to detect effects of this size. The results thus suggest that egg coloration in the song thrush and blackcap (shrub nesters) may be a neutral trait with regard to nest predation, whereas egg crypsis may be an anti-predation feature for the yellowhammer (ground/near-ground nester). The role of predation in the evolution of eggshell colour may vary not only between cavity and open nesters, but also across nest sites within the latter group.