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Resolving the urban nest predator paradox: The role of alternative foods for nest predators

Stracey, Christine M.
Biological conservation 2011 v.144 no.5 pp. 1545-1552
Accipiter, cats, community structure, conservation areas, foods, habitats, hawks, neighborhoods, nests, pastures, population growth, predation, predators, urban areas, urbanization, video cameras, Florida
Urbanization is a leading cause of species endangerment in the United States; however, certain species thrive in urban habitats. The loss of key predators or the addition of new predators in urban areas could alter the structure of urban communities. A reduction in nest predation is hypothesized to explain the high density of urban birds, yet urban areas typically have increased populations of avian nest predators. The loss of important nest predators in urban habitats, prey switching of urban predators, or successful nest defense against avian nest predators could explain this urban nest predator paradox. To assess these hypotheses I compared nest predation rates of Northern mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos) in parking lots and residential neighborhoods to populations in pastures and wildlife preserves during 2007–2009 in Florida, USA and placed video cameras on a subset of nests in 2008–2009. Data do not support the hypothesis that urban nest predation rates are consistently lower than non-urban nest predation rates. Of the 56 nest predation events recorded, cats were the dominant urban predator and Cooper’s hawks (Accipiter cooperii) were the dominant non-urban predator. There was no evidence for a loss of important nest predators in urban habitats; however, prey switching by Cooper’s hawks likely occurred. There was also indirect evidence for the importance of nest defense. Furthermore, some of the cats recorded as nest predators in residential neighborhoods were owned cats and all but one cat predation event occurred at night. To reduce nest predation rates, cat owners should keep their cats indoors at night.