Effects of farming practices on nesting success of steppe birds in dry cereal farmland

  • Carlos Ponce
  • Iván Salgado
  • Carolina Bravo
  • Natalia Gutiérrez
  • Juan Carlos Alonso
Original Article


Increase in nest predation has been identified as a major cause of decline of farmland birds. However, the interactions between agricultural intensification and predation are still poorly understood, particularly after the introduction of agri-environmental schemes (AES). We used an artificial nest predation experiment and camera trapping to examine how AES measures (vetch, organic cereal, and long-term fallows) can affect nest predation in a dry cereal farmland area in central Spain. We found that 66% of nests were predated, and 6% were run over by tractors during the traditional spring works to eliminate weeds in plowed fields. Nests surrounded by tall vegetation suffered lower predation rates, cereal crops being the safest substrate. In contrast, the highest predation rate was found in plowed fields, where nests were more exposed and vulnerable. Nest predation was higher near field edges, where mammals concentrate their predation effort, as shown by camera trapping. Predation was also high in long-term fallows and organic cereal crops, where prey are more abundant than in other field types, thus attracting predators. This was confirmed by the higher mammal predation events recorded by wildlife cameras in fallow fields compared to other substrates. To minimize this predation increase, we recommend that AES-promoted fields should be dispersed, in order to prevent an accumulation of high-quality patches which might attract predators. Finally, it is crucial to establish some restrictions on tractor works in plowed fields in spring to decrease the remarkably high rate of nest destruction (one of every four nests in this substrate).


Agri-environment schemes Agricultural intensification Artificial nest experiment Farmland bird Habitat management Nest predation 



We thank Iris Calleja for her help during field work and all farmers in the study area for their collaboration. Luis M. Bautista and Rafael Barrientos made valuable suggestions to improve the manuscript. Compensatory payments to farmers were financed through an AES funded by the construction of the highway Madrid-Guadalajara and managed through a contract CSIC-HENARSA awarded to JCA. CP and CB were supported by the contract CSIC-HENARSA. IS was supported by a Junta de Ampliación de Estudios (JAE) predoctoral fellowship from the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC). Additional funding was provided by the General Directorate for Scientific Research of the Spanish Ministry for Science and Innovation (projects CGL2005-04893 and CGL2008-02567).


  1. Barrientos R, Arroyo B (2014) Nesting habitat selection of Mediterranean raptors in managed pinewoods: searching for common patterns to derive conservation recommendations. Bird Conserv Int 24(02):138–151. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Barrientos R, Valera F, Barbosa A, Carrillo CM, Moreno E (2009) Plasticity of nest-site selection in the trumpeter finch: a comparison between two different habitats. Acta Oecol 35(4):499–506. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barton K (2013) MuMIn: Multi-model inference. R package version 1.9.13Google Scholar
  4. Batáry P, Winkler H, Báldi A (2004) Experiments with artificial nests on predation in reed habitats. J Ornithol 145:59–63CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Batary P, Dicks LV, Kleijn D, Sutherland WJ (2015) The role of agri-environment schemes in conservation and environmental management. Conserv Biol 29(4):1006–1016. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  6. Bayne EM, Hobson KA, Fargey P (1997) Predation on artificial nests in relation to forest type: contrasting the use of quail and plasticine eggs. Ecography 20(3):233–239. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Beja P, Schindler S Santana J, Porto M, Morgado R, Moreira F, Pita R, Mira A, Reino L (2013) Predators and livestock reduce bird nest survival in intensive Mediterranean farmland. Eur J Wildl Res 60:249–258CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Benson TJ, Brown JD, Bednarz JC (2010) Identifying predators clarifies predictors of nest success in a temperate passerine. J Anim Ecol 79(1):225–234. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Berg A, Lindberg T, Källebrink KG (1992) Hatching success of lapwings on farmland: differences between habitats and colonies of different sizes. J Anim Ecol 61:469–476CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bider JR (1968) Animal activity in uncontrolled terrestrial communities as determined by a sand transect technique. Ecol Monogr 38(4):269–308. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bowman GB, Harris LD (1980) Effect of spatial heterogeneity on ground-nest depredation. J Wildl Manag 44(4):806–813. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Brickle NW, Harper DGC, Aebischer NJ, Cockayne SH (2000) Effects of agricultural intensification on the breeding success of corn buntings Miliaria calandra. J Appl Ecol 37(5):742–755. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Burnham KP, Anderson DR (2002) Model selection and multi-model inference. A practical information-theoretic approach. Springer, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  14. Butler SJ, Boccaccio L, Gregory LD, Vorisek P, Norris K (2010) Quantifying the impact of land-use change to European farmland bird populations. Agric Ecosyst Environ 137:348–357CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Campbell LH, Avery MJ, Donald P, Evans AD, Green RE, Wilson JD (1997) A review of the indirect effects of pesticides on birds. JNCC report no. 227. JNCC, PeterboroughGoogle Scholar
  16. Chalfoun AD, Ratnaswamy MJ, Thompson FR III (2002) Songbird nest predators in forest-pasture edge and forest interior in a fragmented landscape. Ecol Appl 12:858–867Google Scholar
  17. Chamberlain DE, Hatchwell BJ, Perrins CM (1995) Spaced out nests and predators: an experiment to test the effects of habitat structure. J Avian Biol 26(4):346–349. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Davis SK (2005) Nest-site selection patterns and the influence of vegetation on nest survival of mixed-grass prairie passerines. Condor 107(3):605–616.Google Scholar
  19. de Graaf RM, Maier TJ (1996) Effects of egg-size on predation by white-footed mice. Wilson Bull 108:535–539Google Scholar
  20. Delgado MP, Sanza M, Morales MB, Traba J, Rivera D (2013) Habitat selection and coexistence in wintering passerine steppe birds. J Ornithol 154:469–479CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Díaz L, Carrascal LM (2006) Influence of habitat structure and nest site features on predation pressure of artificial nests in Mediterranean oak forests. Ardeola 53(1):69–81Google Scholar
  22. Donald PF (1999) The ecology and conservation of skylarks Alauda arvensis on lowland farmland. DPhil thesis, Oxford UniversityGoogle Scholar
  23. Donald PF, Green RE, Heath MF (2001) Agricultural intensification and the collapse of Europe’s farmland bird populations. Proc R Soc Lond B Biol 268(1462):25–29. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Donald PF, Evans AD, Muirhead LB, Buckingham DL, Kirby WB, Schmitt SIA (2002) Survival rates, causes of failure and productivity of skylark Alauda arvensis nests on lowland farmland. Ibis 144(4):652–664. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Dormann CF, Elith J, Bacher S, Buchmann C, Carl G, Carré G, García Marquéz JR, Gruber B, Lafourcade B, Leitão PJ, Münkemüller T, McClean C, Osborne PE, Reineking B, Schröder B, Skidmore AK, Zurell D, Lautenbach S (2013) Collinearity: a review of methods to deal with it and a simulation study evaluating their performance. Ecography 36(1):27–46. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Draycott RAH, Hoodless AN, Woodburn MIA, Sage RB (2008) Nest predation of European common pheasants Phasianus Colchicus. Ibis 150(Suppl. 1):37–44. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. EBCC 2010 Population trends of european common birds 2010. EBCC report.
  28. Escandell V (2015) Programa Sacre. In: SEO/BirdLife. Programas de seguimiento de SEO/BirdLife 2014, SEO/BirdLife, Madrid, pp 4–9Google Scholar
  29. Evans KL (2004) The potential for interactions between predation and habitat change to cause population declines of farmland birds. Ibis 146:1–13CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Faria N, Morales MB, Rabaça JE (2016) Exploring nest destruction and bird mortality in mown Mediterranean dry grasslands: an increasing threat to grassland bird conservation. Eur J Wildl 62(6):663–671. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Fletcher K, Aebischer NJ, Baines D, Foster R, Hoodless AN (2010) Changes in breeding success and abundance of ground-nesting moorland birds in relation to the experimental deployment of legal predator control. J Appl Ecol 47(2):263–272. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Galbraith H (1988) Effects of agriculture on the breeding ecology of lapwings Vanellus vanellus. J Appl Ecol 25(2):487–503. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Gates JE, Gysel LW (1978) Avian nest dispersion and fledging outcome in field-forest edges. Ecology 59(5):871–883. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Green RE, Tyler GA, Bowden CGR (2000) Habitat selection, ranging behaviour and diet of the stone curlew Burhinus oedicnemus in southern England. J Zool (Lond) 250(2):161–183. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Gregory RD, Van Strien AJ, Voriek P, Gmelig Meyling AW, Noble DG, Foppen RPB, Gibbins DW (2005) Developing indicators for European birds. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B 360(1454):269–288. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Hatchwell BJ, Chamberlain DE, Perrins CM (1996) The reproductive success of blackbird Turdus merula in relation to habitat structure and choice of nest-site. Ibis 138:256–262CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Herkert JR (2009) Response of bird populations to farmland set-aside programs. Conserv Biol 23(4):1036–1040. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Hole DG, Perkins AJ, Wilson JD, Alexander IH, Grice PV, Evans AD (2005) Does organic farming benefit biodiversity? Biol Conserv 122(1):113–130. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Ibáñez-Álamo JD, Sanllorente O, Soler M (2012) The impact of researcher disturbance on nest predation rates: a meta-analysis. Ibis 154:5–14CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. King DI, DeGraaf RM (2006) Predators at bird nests in a northern hardwood forest in New Hampshire. J Field Ornithol 77(3):239–243. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Kleijn D, Sutherland WJ (2003) How effective are European agrienvironment schemes in conserving and promoting biodiversity? J Appl Ecol 40(6):947–969. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Kleijn D, Baquero RA, Clough Y, Díaz M, Esteban J, Fernández F, Gabriel D, Herzog F, Holzschuh A, Jöhl R, Knop E, Kruess A, Marshall EJP, Steffan-Dewenter I, Tscharntke T, Verhulst J, West TM, Yela JL (2006) Mixed biodiversity benefits of agri-environment schemes in five European countries. Ecol Lett 9(3):243–254. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. Lapiedra O, Ponjoan A, Gamero A, Bota G, Mañosa S (2011) Brood ranging behaviour and breeding success of the threatened little bustard in an intensified cereal farmland area. Biol Conserv 144:2882–2890CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Magaña M, Alonso JC, Martín CA, Bautista LM, Martín B (2010) Nest-site selection by great bustards Otis tarda suggests a trade-off between concealment and visibility. Ibis 152(1):77–89. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Maier TJ, de Graaf RM (2001) Differences in depredation by small predators limit the use of plasticine and zebra finch eggs in artificial-nest studies. Condor 103(1):180–183.Google Scholar
  46. Major RE, Kendal CE (1996) The contribution of artificial nest experiments to understanding avian reproductive success: a review of methods and conclusions. Ibis 138:298–307CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Martin EM (1993) Nest predation among vegetation layers and habitat types: reviewing the dogmas. Am Nat 141(6):897–913. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  48. Mezquida ET, Marone L (2003) Are results of artificial nest experiments a valid indicator of success of natural nests? Wilson Bull 115(3):270–276. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Muller M, Spaar R, Schifferti L, Jenni L (2005) Effects of changes in farming of subalpine meadows on a grassland bird, the whinchat (Saxicola rubetra). J Ornithol 146(1):14–23. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Newton I (1998) Population limitation in birds. Academic Press Ltd, LondonGoogle Scholar
  51. Newton I (2004) The recent declines of farmland bird populations in Britain: an appraisal of causal factors and conservation actions. Ibis 146(4):579–600. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. O’Connor RJ, Shrubb M (1986) Farming and birds. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  53. Opermanis O (2001) Marsh harrier Circus Aeruginosus predation on artificial duck nests: a field experiment. Ornis Fenn 78:198–203Google Scholar
  54. Pescador M, Peris S (2001) Effects of land-use on nest predation: an experimental study in Spanish croplands. Folia Zool 50:127–136Google Scholar
  55. Pita R, Mira A, Moreira F, Morgado R, Beja P (2009) Influence of landscape characteristics on carnivore diversity and abundance in Mediterranean farmland. Agric Ecosyst Environ 132:57–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Ponce C, Bravo C, García de León D, Magaña M, Alonso JC (2011) Effects of organic farming on plant and arthropod communities: a case study in Mediterranean dryland cereal. Agric Ecosyst Environ 141:193–201CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Ponce C, Bravo C, Alonso JC (2014) Effects of agri-environmental schemes on farmland birds: do food availability measurements improve patterns obtained from simple habitat models? Ecol Evol 4(14):2834–2847CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  58. Purger JJ, Csuka S, Kurucz K (2008) Predation survival of ground nesting birds in grass and wheat fields: experiment with plasticine eggs and artificial nests. Pol J Ecol 56:481–486Google Scholar
  59. R Development Core Team (2013) R: A language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria. ISBN 3–900051–07-0, URL
  60. Rangen SA, Clark RG, Hobson KA (1999) Influence of nest-site vegetation and predator community on the success of artificial songbird nests. Can J Zool 77(11):1676–1681. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Reino L, Porto M, Morgado R, Carvalho F, Mira A, Beja P (2010) Does afforestation increase bird nest predation risk in surrounding farmland? For Ecol Manag 260(8):1359–1366. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Richardson TW, Gardali T, Jenkins SH (2009) Review and meta-analysis of camera effects on avian nest success. J Wildl Manag 73:287–293CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Sánchez-Oliver JS, Benayas JM, Carrascal LM (2014) Local habitat and landscape influence predation of bird nests on afforested Mediterranean cropland. Acta Oecol 58:35–43. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Sokos CK, Mamolos AP, Kalburtji KL, Birtsas PK (2013) Farming and wildlife in Mediterranean agroecosystems. J Nat Conserv 21(2):81–92. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Stowe TJ, Newton AV, Green RE, Mayes E (1993) The decline of the corncrake Crex Crex in Britain and Ireland in relation to habitat. J Appl Ecol 30(1):53–62. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Suárez F, Yanes M, Herranz J (1993) Nature reserves and the conservation of iberian Shrubsteppe passerines: the paradox of Nest predation. Biol Conserv 64:77–81CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Tews J, Bert DG, Mineau P (2013) Estimated mortality of selected migratory bird species from mowing and other mechanical operations in Canadian agriculture. Avian Conserv Ecol 8(8)Google Scholar
  68. Van der Wal R, Palmer SCF (2008) Is breeding of farmland birds depressed by a combination of predator abundance and grazing? Biol Lett 4(3):256–258. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  69. Verboven N, Ens BJ, Dechesne S (2001) Effect of investigator disturbance on nest attendance and egg predation in Eurasian oystercatchers. Auk 118(2):503–508.Google Scholar
  70. Vickery PD, Hunter ML, Wells JF (1992) Evidence of incidental nest predation and its effects on nests of threatened grassland birds. Oikos 63(2):281–288. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Virgós E (2001) Relative value of riparian woodlands in landscapes with different forest cover for medium sized Iberian carnivores. Biodivers Conserv 10(7):1039–1049. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Whittingham MJ, Evans KL (2004) A review of the effects of habitat structure on predation risk of birds in agricultural landscapes. Ibis 146(Suppl. 2):210–220. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Whittingham MJ, Percival SM, Brown AF (2002) Nestsite selection by golden plover: why do shorebirds avoid nesting on slopes? J Avian Biol 33(2):184–190. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Wilson JD, Browne SJ (1993) Habitat selection and breeding success of skylarks Alauda arvensis on organic and conventional farmland. British Trust for Ornithology, ThetfordGoogle Scholar
  75. Wilson JD, Evans J, Browne SJ, King JR (1997) Territory distribution and breeding success of skylarks Alauda arvensis on organic and intensive farmland in southern England. J Appl Ecol 34(6):1462–1478. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Wilson MF, Morrison JL, Sieving KE, de Santo TL, Santisteban L, Diaz I (2001a) Patterns of predation risk and survival of bird nests in a Chilean agricultural landscape. Conserv Biol 15(2):447–456. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Wilson AM, Vickery JA, Browne SJ (2001b) Numbers and distribution of northern lapwings Vanellus vanellus breeding in England and Wales in 1998. Bird Study 48(1):2–17. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Wilson JD, Whittingham MJ, Bradbury RB (2005) The management of crop structure: a general approach to reversing the impacts of agricultural intensification on birds? Ibis 147(3):453–463. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Yanes M, Suárez F (1995) Nest predation patterns in ground–nesting passerines on the Iberian peninsula. Ecography 18(4):423–428. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Zuur AF, Ieno EN, Walker NJ, Saveliev AA, Smith GM (2009) Mixed effects models and extensions in ecology with R. Springer, New York. CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carlos Ponce
    • 1
  • Iván Salgado
    • 1
  • Carolina Bravo
    • 1
  • Natalia Gutiérrez
    • 1
  • Juan Carlos Alonso
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Evolutionary EcologyMuseo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones CientíficasMadridSpain

Personalised recommendations