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Abstract

In cryptically coloured birds, remaining on the nest despite predator approach (risk-taking) may decrease the likelihood that the nest will be detected and current reproductive attempt lost. By contrast, flushing may immediately reveal the nest location to the predator. Escape decisions of incubating parents should therefore be optimized based on the risk-to-parent/cost of escape equilibrium. Animal prey may assess predation risk depending on a variety of cues, including the camouflage that vegetation provides against the predator. We examined interactive effects of nest crypsis and the current reproductive value of a clutch on flushing distances in incubating mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) approached by a human. Our results were consistent with predictions of parental investment theory: flushing distances were inversely correlated with measures of the reproductive value of the current clutch, namely with clutch size, stage of incubation and mean egg volume. Independently of a reproductive value of a clutch, nest concealment explained a significant portion of the variation in flushing distance among females; individual females tended to increase/decrease flushing distances according to change in nest cover. The results further suggest that vegetation concealment greatly influenced the risk of nest detection by local predators, suggesting that vegetation may act as a protective cover for incubating female. A female's ability to delay flushes according to the actual vegetation cover might thus be viewed as an antipredator strategy that reduces premature nest advertising to visually oriented predators. We argue, however, that shorter flying distances from densely covered sites might be maladaptive in areas where a predator's ability to detect incubating female does not rely on visual cues of nests.