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Keywords:

  • before-after-control-treatment;
  • black-billed magpie;
  • experiment;
  • France;
  • Pica pica;
  • predator control;
  • songbird productivity;
  • urbanization;
  • wildlife

ABSTRACT  Bird communities change in response to urbanization, which poses a challenge for conservationists. We examined the consequences of the recent increase in European cities of black-billed magpie (Pica pica), which has become the main bird nest predator in many urban parks, yet its impact remains disputed. We tested predator role in the limitation of postfledging and adult numbers of 10 common songbird species. We conducted before-after, control-treatment experimental magpie removal in the suburbs near Paris, France, during our 3-year study. We also compared the productivity and the relative densities between urban and rural habitats for 14 songbirds. We found that magpies had very limited effect on songbird productivity, even for species sensitive to predation by corvids. In addition, impact of the magpie on population levels of passerines would also be minimized because we found no relationship between productivity of prey and their densities. Thus, the recent colonization of urban parks by magpies should not threaten persistence of local songbird populations. Yet, there was evidence that a small number of non-territorial bird species were attracted to places where magpies were removed. Magpie densities may have modified habitat selection for foraging that might be explained by predator avoidance. But overall, characteristics of urban habitat explain variations of productivity and densities of songbirds better than did magpie predation. In France, conservationists widely use the control of predators, aiming at increasing levels of prey populations. Despite very high densities of magpies in urban parks, we gave evidence that removal of this predator was ineffective to preserve populations of common passerines. This would suggest that the risk induced by the presence of magpies is independent of its density, and conservationists must carefully assess its impact. In the future, we recommend management policies include long-term monitoring of magpie-prey interactions during breeding season to detect potential changes in songbird responses to magpie presence.