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Providing evidence to improve practice

Action: Can nest protection increase predation of adults and chicks? Bird Conservation

Key messages

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  • Three replicated and controlled studies from North America and Sweden found higher levels of predation on adult birds with nest exclosures, one study from Sweden found that predation was no higher.
  • A replicated and controlled study from Alaska found that long-tailed jaegers Stercorarius longicaudus learned to associate exclosures with birds, targeting adult western sandpipers Calidris mauri and quickly predating chicks when exclosures were removed.


Supporting evidence from individual studies


A replicated, controlled study from 1993-2002 at five alkali lakes in Alberta and Saskatchewan (Canada), Montana and North Dakota, USA (Murphy et al. 2003) found that adult piping plovers Charadrius melodus were more likely to be predated if their nests were protected by exclosures (5% of 1,355 nests suffering mortality) than if their nests were unprotected (no adults predated at 420 nests). Predation rates were highest (up to 48%) at sites with 4–15% tree cover within 2 km of the nests and zero in areas with few trees (across the study period, 393 nests monitored). At one site, when small (1-1.7 m diameter) exclosures were replaced with large (3-4 m diameter) ones with netting tops, predation rate fell from 34% in 1999 (55 nests) to 11% in 2000 (39 nests) In areas where large cages only were used, predation rates were 0.7% (303 nests). Most (78%) losses were to raptors.



A replicated before-and-after study on beaches in California, USA (Neuman et al. 2004) found that nest abandonment rates of snowy plovers Charadrius alexandrinus combined with adult mortality increased between 1984-90 and 1991-99 (1% of 728 nests in 1984-90 vs. 4% of 682 in 1991-99) following the protection of 49% of nests with predator exclosures (1.5 m high triangular wire fences) after 1991. In addition, although only 49% of nests were protected, 75% of adult disappearances (assumed to be due to predation) were from protected nests (significantly more than expected by chance). This study is also discussed in ‘Predator control not on islands’, ‘Physically protect nests with individual exclosures/barriers’ and ‘Can nest protection increase nest abandonment?’.



A replicated and controlled study in 2001 in the Yukon Delta, Alaska, USA, (Niehaus et al. 2004) found that survival of western sandpiper Calidris mauri nests was higher when they were protected by exclosures (see ‘Physically protect nests with individual exclosures/barriers’). However, after 17 days, long-tailed jaegers (skuas, which predate on sandpiper adults, chicks and eggs) Stercorarius longicaudus began associating exclosures with nests and targeting them (whilst ignoring control nests), causing sandpipers to flush, sometimes colliding with the exclosures. One chick died from cold exposure whilst adults were being harassed by jaegers and exclosures were removed after 19 days. Following exclosure removal, chicks from exclosure nests were less likely to survive than those from control nests, with some chicks being predated minutes after the removal of exclosures.



A replicated, randomised and controlled trial in 2002 and 2004 at three grazed pasture sites in south-west Sweden (Isaksson et al. 2007) found that there were significantly higher predation rates on adult common redshank Tringa tetanus with protected nests (protected by truncated cone steel cages with 6.5 – 8.5 cm spacing between vertical bars and 4 x 4 cm steel netting on top) than for birds brooding at unprotected nests (nine adults from eight protected nests predated, from a total of 37 nests vs. a single bird from 31 unprotected nests). This study is also discussed in ‘Physically protect nests with individual exclosures/barriers’.



A replicated, controlled trial between 1999 and 2004 on pastures in southwest Sweden (Pauliny et al. 2008) found that protecting southern dunlin Calidris alpina schinzii nests with cages (20 cm high truncated cones with 7.5 cm gaps between vertical bars and 4 x 4 cm steel mesh covering the top) did not significantly affect the predation rates on brooding adults (7% of 57 adults at protected nests predated vs. 13% of 16) adults at unprotected nests). This study is also discussed in ‘Physically protect nests with individual exclosures/barriers’.


Referenced papers

Please cite as:

Williams, D.R., Child, M.F., Dicks, L.V., Ockendon, N., Pople, R.G., Showler, D.A., Walsh, J.C., zu Ermgassen, E.K.H.J. & Sutherland, W.J. (2019) Bird Conservation. Pages 141-290 in: W.J. Sutherland, L.V. Dicks, N. Ockendon, S.O. Petrovan & R.K. Smith (eds) What Works in Conservation 2019. Open Book Publishers, Cambridge, UK.