One hypothesis to explain both within-and between-season breeding dispersal is that individuals move in response to degradation in the suitability and/or quality of their nesting sites. This hypothesis was experimentally examined by manipulating the suitability and/or quality of nesting boxes used by Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) on one study site in upstate South Carolina. From 12 randomly assigned boxes, old nests, parasites, dead nestlings, old food or feces were not removed, as they were from 12 other randomly assigned boxes. There were 24 nesting attempts in cleaned boxes; 26 in not-cleaned boxes. Third brood nesting attempts occurred in only one of the cleaned boxes but in five of the not-cleaned boxes. Only 59% of individuals stayed to breed again within the season in not-cleaned boxes, whereas 72% stayed in cleaned boxes. Equal numbers of both males and females returned to breed in cleaned and not-cleaned boxes during the next breeding season, however. Both within-and between-season breeding dispersal is significantly more likely after unsuccessful nesting attempts than successful nesting attempts. There was no significant effect of cleaning or not cleaning nesting boxes on the chance of nesting attempts or the numbers of nestlings fledged from nesting boxes.
Additional publication details
Breeding dispersal of Eastern Bluebirds depends on nesting success but not on removal of old nests: An experimental study