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Habitat quality is determined not only by habitat structure and the availability of resources, but also by competitors, cooperators, predators, and parasites. We hypothesized that, for passerines, minimizing risk from avian nest predators and brood parasites is an important factor in selecting a breeding site. Through the early part of two breeding seasons, we spot-mapped locations of Acadian Flycatchers (Empidonax virescens, territory selectors), Red-bellied Woodpeckers (Melanerpes carolinus, nest predators) and Brown-headed Cowbirds (Molothrus ater, brood parasites) in a 56-ha study area within an extensive bottomland hardwood forest. We were thereby able to determine the order of flycatcher territory settlement and nest initiation in relation to risk of predation and parasitism, while accounting for habitat structure. Male settlement was influenced by both habitat structure and risk avoidance. However, risk trom woodpeckers was relatively more important in the first season and risk from cowbirds in the second, evidently due to differences in the relative abundance of predator and brood-parasite in each year. For male flycatchers, settlement choices appear to be flexible in the face of changing 'risk landscapes.' For females, habitat structure was the most important predictor of nest site selection. Even so, there was evidence that females avoided cowbirds. Surprisingly, nest site selection was positively associated with woodpecker abundance in the first season when woodpeckers were present in greater numbers. Possible explanations for this contradictory result are discussed.
Additional Publication Details
Risky business: Site selection by Acadian Flycatchers under threat of nest predation and brood parasitism