Ornis Hungarica. vol.23(1). (2015) p.66-76.
Species specific effect of nest-box cleaning on settlement selection decisions in an artificial colony system
Selecting a suitable breeding habitats and a nest-site within are crucial decisions birds have to make. Free ranging solitary Kestrels may use public information derived from leftover pellets and prey remnants from previous conspecific breeding attempts to assess location quality. However, this information may also indicate potentially higher nestling ectoparasite load. In colonies where habitat quality is similar for all available nests, the only information of previous nest usage may reflect expected future parasite pressure. In this study we explored whether Kestrels, Red-footed Falcons and Jackdaws rely on nest-material consisting of pellets and prey remnants when choosing a nest in a multi species artificial colony system. We also assessed potential effects of these decisions on reproductive success. We randomly selected and cleaned half (n=102) of all available nest-boxes in each of the studied 4 colonies before the breeding season. We then monitored occupancy, egg-laying date, hatching and fledging success. In case of Red-footed Falcons, we also acquired adult age and nestling condition data. Our results show that Kestrels were more likely to breed in uncleaned nest-boxes, however, eggs laid in cleaned nest-boxes were more likely to develop into fledged nestlings. There was a weak indication that lower hatching rate was responsible for this effect, rather than increased parasite load. Nest box cleaning had no effect on measured variables in case of Red-footed Falcons and Jackdaws. Colonial breeding of Kestrels, the only species to react to nest-box cleaning, is rare and is probably a consequence of extreme nest-site shortage in our study site. We conclude that Kestrels are not adapted to interpret the information carried by pellets and prey-remnants in colony nest-boxes.