One of the proposed benefits of colonial nesting in birds is the protection afforded against avian predators. This advantage may be counter-balanced by the negative effects of intraspecific aggression on breeding success. Effects of nest density, nest location within the colony, and timing of nest initiation on productivity of Caspian Terns (Sterna caspia) were investigated on Crescent Island in the mid-Columbia River, Washington, USA. In the absence of intense nest predation at the Crescent Island tern colony, it was hypothesized that nest density would be negatively associated with productivity. A rangefinder was used to determine spatial distribution of Caspian Tern nests, and these data used to calculate nest characteristics (nest density, nearest neighbor distance, and distance to colony edge) for a randomly-selected subset of nests monitored for nest chronology and productivity. Productivity did not differ between nests in high- and low-density areas of the colony, and was positively associated with earlier nest initiation. Early nests were more productive, were located in areas of higher nest density, and were further from the colony edge than late nests. The strong effect of timing may have been attributable to seasonal declines in prey resources for terns at this site. Our results suggest that Caspian Terns nesting at the highest densities observed in this study did not incur immediate reproductive costs, despite increased potential for encounters between chicks and aggressive conspecific adults.
Additional publication details
Effects of nest density, location, and timing on breeding success of Caspian Terns