Deciduous riparian ecosystems in the western United States provide habitat for a higher density of breeding birds than reported for any other avian habitat type and provide habitat for more breeding bird species than adjacent uplands. On the east slope of the Sierra Nevada, riparian ecosystems make up <1% of United States Forest Service lands yet experience a disproportionate amount of recreational use and development. Two of these developments, pack-station corrals and campgrounds, provide foraging opportunities for the Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater)—an obligate brood parasite that forages on bare ground and feedlots but typically commutes to distinct shrubland or woodland habitats for breeding. We examined nest survival, brood parasitism, breeding phenology, and causes of nest failure for birds at North Lake and Rock Creek: 2 high-elevation (>2500 m) riparian breeding habitats adjacent to recreational development and within cowbird commuting distance to additional potential foraging sites. Nest survival tended to be higher for host species at Rock Creek than for those at North Lake, but parasitism rates were not significantly different between plots. Of 21 open-cup nesting species, 12 were parasitized. We found the highest rate of parasitism (92%) for Warbling Vireos (Vireo gilvus) at North Lake, and parasitism contributed to lower total nest survival there (14%). For nearly all species, parasitized nests were less successful and produced fewer young than nonparasitized nests. However, predation was the leading cause of complete nest failure across all species and contributed to the lowest total nest survival estimates for Western Wood-Pewees (Contopus sordidulus, 11%) and Dusky Flycatchers (Empidonax oberholseri, 15%) at North Lake and for Dark-eyed Juncos (Junco hyemalis, 15%) at Rock Creek. Nest survival was relatively high for Western Wood-Pewees (41%) at Rock Creek and for Yellow Warblers (Dendroica petechia, 47%) at North Lake. We noted whether the arrival of pack animals at pack-station corrals contributed to variation in cowbird numbers at corrals or in parasitism rates at the 2 sites. Cowbirds occupied corrals before and after pack-stock arrival, and most host clutches were completed prior to pack-stock arrival at nearby corrals, suggesting that the presence of pack animals did not directly affect cowbird host species.
Heath, Sacha K.; Culp, Leah A.; and Howell, Christine A.
"Brood parasitism and nest survival of Brown-headed Cowbird hosts at high-elevation riparian sites in the eastern Sierra Nevada, California,"
Western North American Naturalist: Vol. 70
, Article 9.
Available at: https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/wnan/vol70/iss3/9