We estimated nesting success at real and artificial nests of grassland birds to test the influence of nest type, nest position, and egg size on predation rates. We distributed wicker nests and realistic woven-grass nests baited with a clay egg and either a Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus) egg or a House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) egg in four grasslands that were part of the Conservation Reserve Program in east-central Illinois. Nesting success averaged 86.5% for 12 days of exposure for artificial nests. For real nests, nesting success was markedly lower, averaging 39% over the entire nesting cycle and 59% during approximately 12 days of incubation. Wicker nests were depredated more often than wovengrass artificial nests (18% vs. 8%), and nests baited with House Sparrow eggs were depredated more often than nests baited with Northern Bobwhite eggs (22% vs. 9% ). Elevated and ground nests were depredated at the same rate. Patterns of nest predation on wicker nests were markedly different from depredation patterns on real nests over time and among fields. In contrast, patterns of nest predation on realistic woven-grass nests corresponded much more closely with predation rates of real nests over time and among fields. We suggest that future artificial nest studies use nests and eggs that mimic as closely as possible the real nests and eggs of target species. Use of unrealistic artificial nests and eggs, at least in grasslands, may result in patterns of predation that do not accurately reflect those of real nests. Artificial nests of any type appear to underestimate predation rates on nests of grassland birds, possibly because of a lack of snake predation on artificial nests.
Davison, William B. and Bollinger, Eric K., "Predation Rates on Real and Artificial Nests of Grassland Birds" (2000). Faculty Research & Creative Activity. Paper 75.