Avian predators are less abundant during periodical cicada emergences, but why?


  • Corresponding Editor: F. S. Dobson.


Despite a substantial resource pulse, numerous avian insectivores known to depredate periodical cicadas (Magicicada spp.) are detected less commonly during emergence years than in either the previous or following years. We used data on periodical cicada calls collected by volunteers conducting North American Breeding Bird Surveys within the range of cicada Brood X to test three hypotheses for this observation: lower detection rates could be caused by bird calls being obscured by cicada calls (“detectability” hypothesis), by birds avoiding areas with cicadas (“repel” hypothesis), or because bird abundances are generally lower during emergence years for some reason unrelated to the current emergence event (“true decline” hypothesis). We tested these hypotheses by comparing bird detections at stations coincident with calling cicadas vs. those without calling cicadas in the year prior to and during cicada emergences. At four distinct levels (stop, route, range, and season), parallel declines of birds in groups exposed and not exposed to cicada calls supported the true decline hypothesis. We discuss several potential mechanisms for this pattern, including the possibility that it is a consequence of the ecological and evolutionary interactions between predators of this extraordinary group of insects.