Host selection in the forest interior: cowbirds target ground-nesting species

Chapter 13 in Proceeding of North American Research Workshop on the Ecology and Management of Cowbirds, Austin, Texas Nov. 4-5, 1993, the Nature Conservancy. OCLC: 41108554 PDF on file: 5462_Hahn.pdf and 5462_Hahn_large.pdf t.p. graphic is good


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We investigated patterns of cowbird host selection in a large (1300 ha), unfragmented forest in eastern New York in 1992-3 to determine whether cowbird parasitism rates can be attributed to species-specific traits or to other features associated with nest sites. Nest height was significantly associated with parasitism (P = 0.003) in this community of 23 species (n = 430 nests, 23% parasitized). Further analysis revealed that the difference in mean nest heights between parasitized and unparasitized nests was due to species identity, and within each species there was no difference in mean nest heights between parasitized and unparasitized nests. These results imply that during 1992-3 cowbirds in this forest specialized on species that have low nests and did not necessarily select low nests regardless of species. This was further supported by a negative association across all 23 species between mean nest height and parasitism rate (P = 0.03). Thus, although most of the forest-nesting species in this community experienced cowbird parasitism, there was a tendency for higher parasitism rates on low-nesting species such as the Ovenbird, Black-and-white Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, Veery, and Hermit Thrush. The Wood Thrush, a mid-range nester which is heavily parasitized in southern Illinois, experienced only 10% parasitism in our site and ranked 9th in parasitism rate, although it was the most abundant species in this forest in terms of the number of nests found. A long-term study is necessary to determine whether this cowbird population consistently parasitizes the ground-nesting species of this forest community more often than those nesting at higher levels or whether they periodically shift among hosts at different heights and in different habitats across the local landscape.

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Publication type:
Book chapter
Publication Subtype:
Book Chapter
Host selection in the forest interior: cowbirds target ground-nesting species
Year Published:
University of Texas Press
Publisher location:
Austin, TX
Contributing office(s):
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
ix, 388
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Larger Work Subtype:
Other Government Series
Larger Work Title:
Ecology and Management of Cowbirds and their Hosts: Studies in the Conservation of North American Passerine Birds
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