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Ecological traps occur when habitat selection and habitat suitability (measured in terms of fitness) are decoupled. We developed a graphical model based on isodar theory to distinguish between an ideal distribution and an ecological trap. We tested the model's predictions using data on breeding bird populations in managed tallgrass prairie in Oklahoma. Between 1992 and 1996 we monitored success for 2600 nests of 26 breeding species in undisturbed, grazed, and burned and grazed plots. We also sampled arthropod biomass and nest predator abundance. Using the isodar model we determined that managed plots are ecological traps: compared with success on plots left undisturbed, nest success on plots that were only grazed was lower, and success on plots that were burned and grazed was substantially lower. Yet birds preferred to nest on managed plots, where arthropod abundance was measurably higher. Reptiles were the most abundant taxon of nest predators, and their abundance was highest in managed plots. Consequently, tree-nesting species had higher nest success than shrub- and ground-nesting birds. Nest success also increased with tree height. We concluded that isodar theory is a useful tool for detecting ecological traps if any component of fitness is measured in addition to animal densities. Our study also suggests that (1) human modification of the environment may alter simultaneously food and predator abundance, (2) the former affects nest site selection and the latter nest success, and (3) such ecosystems are likely to become traps for breeding birds.