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Distance from riparian edge reduces brood parasitism of southwestern willow flycatchers, whereas parasitism increases nest predation risk


  • Associate Editor: Andrew Kroll


The southwestern willow flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus) is a federally endangered subspecies that breeds in increasingly fragmented and threatened habitat. We examined whether temporal and habitat characteristics were associated with risk of predation and probability of brood parasitism by brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater) on flycatcher nests at 6 sites in southern Nevada and northwestern Arizona, USA. For nest predation, we found the most support for a model that included date and an interaction between parasitism status and nesting stage. Daily nest survival decreased from 0.87 (95% CI = 0.81–0.93) to 0.78 (95% CI = 0.72–0.84) through the season for parasitized nests but remained relatively constant for unparasitized nests (0.93, 95% CI = 0.91–0.95 to 0.92, 95% CI = 0.91–93). Parasitized nests had lower survival than non-parasitized nests during the incubation (0.85, 95% CI = 0.84–0.86 vs. 0.92, CI = 0.91–0.93) and nestling (0.79, 95% CI = 0.77–0.81 vs. 0.91, 95% CI = 0.90–0.92) stages. Of the variables included in our parasitism candidate models, model-averaged coefficients and odds ratios supported only distance to habitat edge; odds of parasitism decreased 1% for every 1 m from the habitat edge. Nests greater than 100 m from an edge were 50% less likely to be parasitized as those on an edge, however, only 52 of 233 nests (22%) were found at this distance. Where management and conservation goals include reducing nest losses due to parasitism, we recommend restoration of habitat patches that minimize edge and maximize breeding habitat further from edges. At sites where cowbirds have been documented as important nest predators, controlling cowbirds may be one option, but further study of the link between parasitism and nest predation and the identification of major nest predators at specific sites is warranted. © 2011 The Wildlife Society.