Artificial nests have been used to study factors affecting nest success because researchers can manipulate them more than natural bird nests. Many researchers have questioned the validity of generalizing the results from artificial nests onto naturally occurring nests. Other studies have assessed the validity of artificial nest studies by simultaneously comparing overall depredation or daily survival rates, depredation timing, predator species, or habitat characteristics of artificial and natural nests. To evaluate how well artificial nests simulated nest success of greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus; hereafter, sagegrouse), we used the unique approach of monitoring artificial nests (n = 69) placed in the natural nest bowls of sage-grouse in southern Wyoming, USA, during 2010 to 2011. Brown chicken eggs were placed in natural sage-grouse nests 7 to 14 days after the hatch or depredation of natural sage-grouse nests to compare artificial nest fate to the fate of natural sage-grouse nests. As secondary objectives, we placed cameras next to a subset of artificial nests to identify which predator species were depredating nests, and we assessed the effects of corvid (black-billed magpie [Pica hudsonia] and common raven [Corvus corax]) density, nest-site characteristics (i.e., anthropogenic development, landscape variables, and microhabitat) date of depredation, and presence of a camera near nest bowls on the depredation rate of all artificial nests. We found that depredation of artificial nests paralleled the fate of natural sagegrouse nests. Depredations were more likely to occur earlier in the summer (June to early July rather than late July to early August). Depredation of artificial nests was negligible as time progressed past the typical sage-grouse nesting season, supporting the hypothesis of predators using a search image to detect eggs. We also found that shorter perennial grass height and greater magpie densities were positively associated with the depredation rates of artificial nests. Camera-recorded depredation events verified that 4 badgers (Taxidea taxus), 2 magpies, and 1 domestic cow depredated artificial nests. Artificial nests may give managers insight into the expected nest success rates of sage-grouse in areas of conservation interest. However, care must be taken regarding placement and timing of artificial nests for reliable conclusions to be drawn from artificial nest studies. Furthermore, identifying predators based on artificial nests likely leads to inaccurate assessment of local species composition of nest depredators.
Dinkins, Jonathan B.; Conover, Michael R.; and Mabray, Scott T.
"Do artificial nests simulate nest success of greater sage-grouse?,"
Human–Wildlife Interactions: Vol. 7
, Article 8.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.usu.edu/hwi/vol7/iss2/8