Assessing conservation tools for an at-risk shorebird: Feasibility of headstarting for American Oystercatchers Haematopus palliatus

Bird Conservation International
By: , and 



Management of threatened and endangered populations of wildlife increasingly relies upon active intervention such as predator control, habitat manipulation, and ex situ breeding or care. One tool that has received consideration for the management of declining or threatened avian populations is headstarting, or the artificial incubation of eggs and subsequent placement of newly hatched chicks in original or foster nests. We assessed the feasibility of implementing a headstarting program for the American Oystercatcher Haematopus palliatus, a species of high conservation concern in the eastern USA. Annual productivity is often low and lost during incubation, suggesting artificial incubation could enhance annual productivity. We used a control-impact approach to assign nests as either control or headstart and measured daily survival rate, success of parents accepting headstarted chicks, attendance patterns and behaviours of parents, and chick survival. We also implemented a transparent scoring process to rate the success of each step and the overall program. Daily survival rates of nests were significantly higher at headstart compared to control nests, and parents continued to incubate when eggs were well secured at nest sites. Attendance patterns and behaviour did not differ between headstart and control parents, and parents readily accepted healthy chicks whether they were returned to original or foster nests. Chick survival and subsequently annual productivity were, however, not higher at headstart compared to control nests suggesting that although we were able to enhance nest survival, low chick survival was still limiting annual productivity. Ultimately, headstarting may be most appropriate for American Oystercatchers where productivity is lost primarily to flooding, predation, or disturbance during the incubation stage but not during the chick-rearing stage. If, for example, high rates of nest loss are due to predators that also may prey upon chicks, then headstarting may not be an effective conservation tool.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Assessing conservation tools for an at-risk shorebird: Feasibility of headstarting for American Oystercatchers Haematopus palliatus
Series title Bird Conservation International
DOI 10.1017/S0959270916000095
Volume 26
Issue 4
Year Published 2016
Language English
Publisher Cambridge University Press
Contributing office(s) Coop Res Unit Atlanta
Description 15 p.
First page 451
Last page 465
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