, Volume 186, Issue 3, pp 817–829 | Cite as

Superpredator proximity and landscape characteristics alters nest site selection and breeding success of a subordinate predator

  • Fidelis Akunke AtuoEmail author
  • Timothy John O’Connell
Community ecology – original research


Selecting nesting habitat that minimizes predation risk but maximizes foraging success is one of the most important decisions in avian life history. This takes on added complexity when a predator is faced with the challenge of avoiding fellow predators. We assessed the importance of local and landscape vegetation, food abundance, and predation risk on nest site selection and nest survival in a subordinate raptor (Mississippi Kite; Ictinia mississippiensis) nesting in proximity to two superpredators, Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) and Great horned owl (Bubo virginianus). All three species nested in trees in a grassland landscape. In this landscape, kites favored upland trees and shrubs, avoiding their more typical riparian forest association elsewhere in the species’ range. Compared to random conditions, kites selected nest sites with high tree density and more closed canopy in the surrounding area. Mississippi Kite selection was not related to food abundance but could be explained by the presence of superpredators (i.e., hawks and owls) selecting riparian woodland for their nests. Nest survival declined with proximity to superpredator nesting sites. Overall, our study demonstrates how landscape structure and superior predators shapes predation risk for subordinate predators. Our results emphasize the importance of spatial heterogeneity in presenting opportunities for subordinate predators to coexist in a landscape with important superpredators.


Nest site selection Nest survival Spatial heterogeneity Mississippi Kite Superpredation Predator avoidance Subordinate predators 



Funding for this study was provided by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (Project Number: F11AF00069) and was administered by the Oklahoma Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Oklahoma State University. Further support was provided by the Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station through the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, McIntire Stennis project at Oklahoma State University. We are grateful to the staff of Packsaddle Wildlife Management Areas for providing logistic support during fieldwork. Emily Sinnott, Case Wyatt, Nathan Hillis, and Alicia Maple provided valuable field assistance. For their assistance in study design and analytical advice we thank David M. Leslie, Jr., Craig Davis, Dwayne Elmore, and Mona Papes. Jere Tolvanen and one anonymous reviewer provided suggestions that greatly improve an earlier version of this manuscript.

Author contribution statement

FAA and TJO conceived the study. FAA and TJO designed methods. FAA collected and analyzed data. FAA wrote the paper. FAA and TJO contributed critically to the drafts and gave final approval for publication.

Compliance with ethical standards

Ethics approval

No animals were captured or handled, and no harm was inflicted on any wild animal population.

Supplementary material

442_2018_4071_MOESM1_ESM.docx (43 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 43 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Fidelis Akunke Atuo
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Timothy John O’Connell
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Natural Resource Ecology and ManagementOklahoma State UniversityStillwaterUSA
  2. 2.Department of Forest and Wildlife EcologyUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA

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