Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Facultative nest patch shifts in response to nest predation risk in the Brewer’s sparrow: a “win-stay, lose-switch” strategy?

  • 459 Accesses

  • 49 Citations


Facultative shifts in nesting habitat selection in response to perceived predation risk may allow animals to increase the survival probability of sessile offspring. Previous studies on this behavioral strategy have primarily focused on single attributes, such as the distance moved or changes in nesting substrate. However, nest site choice often encompasses multiple habitat elements at both the nest site and nest patch scales. We studied the within-season re-nesting strategy of a multi-brooded songbird, the Brewer’s sparrow (Spizella breweri), to determine whether pairs utilized a “win-stay, lose-switch” decision rule with respect to inter-nest distance, nest substrate and/or nest patch characteristics in response to previous nest fate. Pairs moved sequential nest sites slightly farther following nest predation versus success. When inter-nest distance was controlled, however, pairs changed nest patch attributes (shrub height, potential nest shrub density) associated with probability of nest predation to a greater extent following nest predation than success. The strategy appeared to be adaptive; daily nest survival probability for previously depredated pairs increased with greater Euclidian habitat distances between attempts, whereas previously successful pairs were more likely to fledge second attempts when nest sites were similar to those of previous attempts. Our results suggest that nesting birds can use prior information and within-season plasticity in response to nest predation to increase re-nesting success, which may be a critical behavioral strategy within complex nest predator environments. Re-nesting site selection strategies also appeared to integrate multiple habitat components and inter-nest distances. The consideration of such proximate, facultative responses to predation risk may clarify often unexplained variation in habitat preferences and requirements.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6


  1. Arlt D, Pärt T (2007) Nonideal breeding habitat selection: a mismatch between preference and fitness. Ecology 88:792–801

  2. Bolnik DI, Yang LH, Fordyce JA, Davis JM, Svanbäck R (2002) Measuring individual-level resource specialization. Ecology 83:2936–2941

  3. Burnham KP, Anderson DR (2002) Model selection and multimodel inference: a practical information-theoretic approach. Springer, New York

  4. Chalfoun AD, Martin TE (2007) Assessments of habitat preferences and quality depend on spatial scale and metrics of fitness. J Appl Ecol 44:983–992

  5. Chalfoun AD, Martin TE (2009) Habitat structure mediates predation risk for sedentary prey: experimental tests of alternative hypotheses. J Ann Ecol 78:497–503

  6. Clark RD, Shutler D (1999) Avian habitat selection: pattern from process in nest-site use by ducks? Ecology 80:272–287

  7. Dow H, Fredga S (1983) Breeding and natal dispersal of the goldeneye, Bucephala clangula. J Ann Ecol 52:681–695

  8. Eggers S, Griesser M, Nystrand M, Ekman J (2006) Predation risk induces changes in nest-site selection and clutch size in the Siberian jay. Proc Roy Soc B 273:701–706

  9. Filliater TS, Breitwisch R, Nealen PM (1994) Predation on northern Cardinal nests: does choice of nest site matter? Condor 96:761–768

  10. Fontaine JJ, Martin TE (2006) Habitat selection responses of parents to offspring predation risk: an experimental test. Am Nat 168:811–818

  11. Forstmeier W, Weiss I (2004) Adaptive plasticity in nest-site selection in response to changing predation risk. Oikos 104:487–499

  12. Greenwood PJ, Harvey PH (1982) The natal and breeding dispersal in birds. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 13:1–21

  13. Greig-Smith PW (1982) Dispersal between nest-sites by Stonechats Saxicola Torquata in relation to previous breeding success. Ornis Scand 13:232–238

  14. Hakkarainen H, Ilmonen P, Koivunen V, Korpimäki E (2001) Experimental increase of predation risk induces breeding dispersal of Tenmalm’s owl. Oecologia 126:355–359

  15. Hildén O (1965) Habitat selection in birds. Ann Zool Fenn 2:53–75

  16. Holway DA (1991) Nest-site selection and the importance of nest concealment in the black-throated blue warbler. Condor 93:575–581

  17. Hoover JP, Brittingham MC (1998) Nest-site selection and nesting success of wood thrushes. Wilts Bull 110:375–383

  18. Howlett JS, Stutchbury BJM (1997) Within-season dispersal, nest-site modification, and predation in renesting hooded warblers. Wilson Bull 109:643–649

  19. Jackson WM, Rohwer S, Nolan V Jr (1989) Within-season breeding dispersal in prairie warblers and other passerines. Condor 91:233–241

  20. Jaenike J, Holt RD (1991) Genetic variation for habitat preference: evidence and explanations. Am Nat 137:S67–S90

  21. Klopfer P (1963) Behavioral aspects of habitat selection: the role of early experience. Wilson Bull 75:15–22

  22. Landmann A, Winding N (1993) Niche segregation in high-altitude Himalayan chats (Aves, Turdidae): does morphology match ecology? Oecologia 95:506–519

  23. Lima SL (2009) Predators and the breeding bird: behavioral and reproductive flexibility under the risk of predation. Biol Rev 84:485–513

  24. Luck GW (2002) Determining habitat quality for the cooperatively breeding Rufous treecreeper, Climacteris rufa. Aust Ecol 27:229–237

  25. Mahony NA, Krannitz PG, Martin K (2006) Seasonal fecundity of sagebrush Brewer’s sparrow (Spizella breweri breweri) at the northern edge of its breeding range. Auk 123:512–523

  26. Manolis JC, Andersen DE, Cuthbert FJ (2000) Uncertain nest fates in songbird studies and variation in Mayfield estimation. Auk 117:615–626

  27. Martin TE (1992) Breeding productivity considerations: what are the appropriate habitat features for management? In: Hagan JM, Johnston DW (eds) Ecology and conservation of neotropical migrants. Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C., pp 455–473

  28. Martin TE (1993) Nest predation and nest sites. Bioscience 43:523–532

  29. Martin TE (1996) Fitness costs of resource overlap among coexisting bird species. Nature 380:338–340

  30. Martin TE (1998) Are microhabitat preferences of coexisting species under selection and adaptive? Ecology 79:656–670

  31. Martin TE, Geupel GR (1993) Nest-monitoring plots: methods for locating nests and monitoring success. J Field Ornith 64:507–519

  32. Martin PR, Martin TE (2001) Ecological and fitness consequences of coexistence in two congeneric wood warblers (Parulidae: Vermivora): a removal experiment. Ecology 82:189–206

  33. Martin TE, Paine CR, Conway CJ, Hochachka WM, Allen P, Jenkins W (1997) BBIRD field protocol. Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Missoula

  34. Marzluff JM (1988) Do pinyon jays alter nest placement based on prior experience? Anim Behav 36:1–10

  35. Morris DW (2003) Toward an ecological synthesis: a case for habitat selection. Oecologia 136:1–13

  36. Morton ML (1997) Natal and breeding dispersal in the mountain white-crowned sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys oriantha. Ardea 85:145–154

  37. Nowak M, Sigmund K (1993) A strategy of win-stay, lose-shift that outperforms tit-for-tat in the Prisoner’s Dilemma game. Nature 364:56–58

  38. Peluc SI, Sillett TS, Rotenberry JT, Ghalambor CK (2008) Adaptive phenotypic plasticity in an island songbird exposed to novel predation risk. Behav Ecol 19:830–835

  39. Pinkowski BC (1977) Breeding adaptations in the eastern bluebird. Condor 79:289–302

  40. Pitman JC, Hagen CA, Jamison BE, Robel RJ, Loughin TM, Applegate RD (2006) Nesting ecology of lesser prairie-chickens in sand sagebrush prairie of southwestern Kansas. Wilson J Ornithol 118:23–35

  41. Pöysä H, Ruusila V, Milonoff M, Virtanen J (2001) Ability to assess nest predation risk in secondary hole-nesting birds: an experimental study. Oecologia 126:201–207

  42. Ricklefs RE (1969) An analysis of nesting mortality in birds. Smithson Contrib Zool 9:1–48

  43. Robertson BA, Hutto RL (2006) A framework for understanding ecological traps and an evaluation of existing evidence. Ecology 87:1075–1085

  44. Rotenberry JT, Wiens JA (1989) Reproductive biology of shrubsteppe passerine birds: geographical and temporal variation in clutch size, brood size, and fledging success. Condor 91:1–14

  45. Roughgarden J (1972) Evolution of niche width. Am Nat 106:683–718

  46. Schmidt KA (2001) Site fidelity in habitats with contrasting levels of nest predation and brood parasitism. Evol Ecol Res 3:633–648

  47. Schmidt KA (2004) Site fidelity in temporally correlated environments enhances population persistence. Ecol Lett 7:176–184

  48. Schmidt KA, Whelan CJ (2010) Nesting in an uncertain world: information and sampling the future. Oikos 119:245–253

  49. Schmidt KA, Dall SRX, van Gils JA (2010) The ecology of information: an overview on the ecological significance of making informed decisions. Oikos 119:304–316

  50. Schroeder MA, Robb LA (2003) Fidelity of greater sage-grouse Centrocercus urophasianus to breeding areas in a fragmented landscape. Wildl Biol 9:291–299

  51. Shaffer TL (2004) A unified approach to analyzing nest success. Auk 121:526–540

  52. Sonerud GA (1985) Nest hole shift in Tengmalm’s owl Aegolius funereus as defence against nest predation involving a long-term memory in the predator. J Ann Ecol 54:179–192

  53. Switzer PV (1993) Site fidelity in predictable and unpredictable habitats. Evol Ecol 7:533–555

  54. Tarvin KA, Garvin MC (2002) Habitat and nesting success of blue jays (Cyanocitta cristata): importance of scale. Auk 119:971–983

  55. Van Valen L (1973) A new evolutionary law. Evol Theory 1:1–30

  56. Vander Haegen WM, Schroeder MA, DeGraaf RM (2002) Predation on real and artificial nests in shrubsteppe landscape fragmented by agriculture. Condor 104:496–506

  57. Weidinger K (2008) Nest monitoring does not increase nest predation in open-nesting songbirds: inference from continuous nest-survival data. Auk 125:859–868

  58. Wiens JA, Rotenberry JT, Van Horne B (1986) A lesson in the limitations of field experiments: shrubsteppe birds and habitat alteration. Ecology 67:365–376

  59. Wilson RR, Cooper RJ (1998) Acadian flycatcher nest placement: does placement influence reproductive success? Condor 100:673–679

Download references


This work was supported by a National Science Foundation EPSCoR fellowship to ADC, the BBIRD Program, The Bureau of Land Management (Billings Field Office), a State Wildlife Grant from the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, and the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station. Field data were collected with the assistance of J. Bolser, B. Breen, K. Ellis, C. Forristal, C. Hill, K. Jewel, K. Nittinger, D. Rauch, A. Saari, D. Westerman, and especially C. Ricketts. We are grateful to J. Parks (BLM) for logistical and financial support. C. Martinez Del Rio provided helpful suggestions for analyses. We thank J. Fontaine, C. Benkman, Q. Latif, and an anonymous reviewer for insightful comments on previous drafts of the manuscript. S. Guenther provided invaluable logistical assistance and support.

Author information

Correspondence to Anna D. Chalfoun.

Additional information

Communicated by Esa Lehikoinen.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Chalfoun, A.D., Martin, T.E. Facultative nest patch shifts in response to nest predation risk in the Brewer’s sparrow: a “win-stay, lose-switch” strategy?. Oecologia 163, 885–892 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-010-1679-0

Download citation


  • Behavioral plasticity
  • Brewer’s sparrow
  • Habitat selection
  • Prior information
  • Re-nesting