Human recreational disturbance and its effects on wildlife demographics and behavior is an increasingly important area of research. We monitored the nesting success of American Oystercatchers (Haematopus palliatus) in coastal North Carolina in 2002 and 2003. We also used video monitoring at nests to measure the response of incubating birds to human recreation. We counted the number of trips per hour made by adult birds to and from the nest, and we calculated the percent time that adults spent incubating. We asked whether human recreational activities (truck, all-terrain vehicle [ATV], and pedestrian traffic) were correlated with parental behavioral patterns. Eleven a priori models of nest survival and behavioral covariates were evaluated using Akaike's Information Criterion (AIC) to see whether incubation behavior influenced nest survival. Factors associated with birds leaving their nests (n = 548) included ATV traffic (25%), truck traffic (17%), pedestrian traffic (4%), aggression with neighboring oystercatchers or paired birds exchanging incubation duties (26%), airplane traffic (1%) and unknown factors (29%). ATV traffic was positively associated with the rate of trips to and away from the nest (??1 = 0.749, P < 0.001) and negatively correlated with percent time spent incubating (??1 = -0.037, P = 0.025). Other forms of human recreation apparently had little effect on incubation behaviors. Nest survival models incorporating the frequency of trips by adults to and from the nest, and the percentage of time adults spent incubating, were somewhat supported in the AIC analyses. A low frequency of trips to and from the nest and, counter to expectations, low percent time spent incubating were associated with higher daily nest survival rates. These data suggest that changes in incubation behavior might be one mechanism by which human recreation affects the reproductive success of American Oystercatchers.
Additional publication details
Effects of human recreation on the incubation behavior of American Oystercatchers