Nest-site selection by golden plover: why do shorebirds avoidnesting on slopes?

Golden Plover (Pluvialis apricaria) Science Article 3


It is widely known that many upland-breeding shorebirds tend to nest on plateausbut to date no studies have put forward explanations for this phenomenon. Weexamined the effect of slope and habitat on the distribution of ground-nesting goldenplover Pluialis apricaria at two study sites in County Durham, U.K. Golden ploversshowed strong selection for nesting on flat ground. Habitat significantly affectednest-site location on one study site (heather burnt within the past 2 years wasfavoured and older stands of heather were avoided) but not on the other. Fifty-nineper cent of all nests failed. We attributed 95% of all losses to predation. Seventy-fiveper cent of nests, in which the predator was identified, were taken by groundpredators, mainly stoats Mustela erminea. Nests on flat ground had significantlyhigher rates of survival than those on slopes. Nest survival did not vary significantlywith habitat type nor with vegetation height or density around the nest. Neitherhabitat type, vegetation height nor vegetation density around nests differed betweennests on slopes and on flat ground. In addition, individuals that nested on flat groundtended to have less black on their underparts (a suggested indicator of dominance).We suggest that birds nesting on slopes are less efficient at avoiding nest predationthan those nesting on the flat. The nature or degree of a bird’s response to a predatormay be related to the efficiency of individual anti-predator responses and/or tovisibility from the nest. This study cannot differentiate between these two explanations.We encourage further work to investigate differences in behaviour betweenindividuals nesting on slopes and those on flat ground.

Mark J. Whittingham, Stephen M. Percival and Andrew F. Brown, JOURNAL OF AVIAN BIOLOGY 33: 184-190, 2002

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