Conspecific cues encourage Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica erythrogaster) prospecting, but not nesting, at new nesting structures
Keywords:Aerial insectivore, conspecific attraction, habitat restoration, nesting habitat, Ontario, prospecting, public information, social cues
Shed-like structures are being built to provide Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica erythrogaster) nesting habitat in response to population declines. However, Barn Swallow use of these structures is unavailable in the literature. We conducted three manipulative experiments to test if adding conspecific cues (i.e., vocalizations and decoys) to newly-built structures affected prospecting visits by Barn Swallows (1) during pre-breeding, (2) during post-breeding, and (3) during or after broadcasts of vocalizations compared to before broadcasts. Additionally, we monitored nesting following pre- and post-breeding cues. We built one nesting structure with and one without conspecific cues at each of 10 study sites in southern Ontario, Canada where nesting habitat was recently lost. We detected about twice as many Barn Swallows immediately after conspecific broadcasts compared to before. We did not find substantial differences in abundance and interactions with new nesting structures for other comparisons involving conspecific cues. Following pre-breeding cues at 10 sites, six nests were built in three of 10 structures treated with conspecific cues, compared to five nests in four of 10 structures without cues. In the subsequent breeding season following post-breeding cues at eight sites, four nests were built in two of eight structures treated with conspecific cues, compared to four nests in three of eight structures without cues. Conspecific vocalizations appeared to increase prospecting behaviour, but not the number of nests, at new nesting structures. The paucity of nests on new structures suggests that building shed-like structures may not be an effective method of mitigating loss of nesting habitat.
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