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Keywords:

  • British Columbia;
  • cavity nesters;
  • Glaucomys sabrinus;
  • mature coniferous forest;
  • mountain chickadee;
  • nest site limitation;
  • northern flying squirrel;
  • Poecile gambeli;
  • red squirrel;
  • Tamiasciurus hudsonicus

Abstract

Nest-site availability limits cavity-using populations in many harvested forests; however, little is known about the extent of nest-site limitation in mature forests with a full complement of excavator species and intact processes of cavity creation and loss. To examine the role of nest-site availability in limiting cavity-using populations in mature mixed conifer forests in central British Columbia, Canada, we conducted an 11-year before-after control-impact experiment in which we increased nest-site availability via nest box addition. Our 7 sites (3 treatments, 4 controls) had low cavity densities (<2/ha) prior to treatment and cavity occupation rates were also low (<10%/yr), which is a relationship often cited in the literature as evidence of non-limitation in cavity-nesting populations. Following nest box addition at our treatment sites, which tripled the availability of cavities, total density of bird and mammal nests more than tripled. Density of mountain chickadee (Poecile gambeli) nests increased 9-fold on treatment sites and returned to pre-treatment levels following box removal, suggesting that chickadee populations were limited by cavity availability at our study sites. Density of red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) and northern flying squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus) nests and roosts also increased significantly at treatment sites following box addition and declined following box removal. We noted little change in chickadee or squirrel nest density at control sites monitored concurrently. Squirrels preferred large-sized over small-sized boxes, and significantly enlarged the entrance areas of small boxes by chewing, suggesting that there may have been a shortage of suitable nest and roost sites for them in our study area. We contend that low cavity occupancy rates may not accurately reflect nest-site availability for cavity nesters in mature forests, and that cavity size may influence the true availability of cavities on the landscape. © 2011 The Wildlife Society.