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

Abstract

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.

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Mänd, R., Tilgar, V., Lõhmus, A. et al. Providing nest boxes for hole-nesting birds – Does habitat matter?. Biodivers Conserv 14, 1823–1840 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-004-1039-7

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Keywords

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