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Nest-site selection in the acorn woodpecker

January 1, 1999

Acorn Woodpeckers (Melanerpes formicivorus) at Hastings Reservation in central California prefer to nest in dead limbs in large, dead valley oaks (Quercus lobata) and California sycamores (Platanus racemosa) that are also frequently used as acorn storage trees. Based on 232 nest cavities used over an 18-year period, we tested whether preferred or modal nest-site characters were associated with increased reproductive success (the "nest-site quality" hypothesis). We also examined whether more successful nests were likely to experience more favorable microclimatic conditions or to be less accessible to terrestrial predators. We found only equivocal support for the nest-site quality hypothesis: only 1 of 5 preferred characters and 2 of 10 characters exhibiting a clear modality were correlated with higher reproductive success. All three characteristics of nests known or likely to be associated with a more favorable microclimate, and two of five characteristics likely to render nests less accessible to predators, were correlated with higher reproductive success. These results suggest that nest cavities in this population are built in part to take advantage of favorable microclimatic conditions and, to a lesser extent, to reduce access to predators. However, despite benefits of particular nest characteristics, birds frequently nested in apparently suboptimal cavities. We also found a significant relationship between mean group size and the history of occupancy of particular territories and the probability of nest cavities being built in microclimatically favorable live limbs, suggesting that larger groups residing on more stable territories were better able to construct nests with optimal characteristics. This indicates that there may be demographic, as well as ecological, constraints on nest-site selection in this primary cavity nester.

Publication Year 1999
Title Nest-site selection in the acorn woodpecker
DOI 10.2307/4089452
Authors P.N. Hooge, M.T. Stanback, Walter D. Koenig
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title The Auk
Index ID 70022021
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse