Use of conspecific attraction to increase the artificial nest occupation rate of house martins (Delichon urbicum)

    General Outline

    Not only environmental, but social factors as well, are likely to influence breeding habitat selection of animals. They may thus rely on the presence of conspecifics to select their breeding habitat (i.e., social attraction). Social attraction can be experimentally simulated and may stimulate individuals to establish territories in suitable habitat. Experimentally elicited social attraction can act as a powerful conservation tool to influence settlement and establishment. However, the role of social attraction and the interplay among environmental and social factors in selecting breeding habitat remain largely unknown.

    The aim of this MSc thesis is to test whether an experimentally simulated presence of conspecifics affects the artificial nest occupation rate of house martins (Delichon urbicum), and how the experimentally elicited social attraction interacts with other environmental and social factors, such as the landscape composition of the artificial nest surroundings or the distance to the next occupied breeding site.

    The house martin is a still relatively common breeding bird in Switzerland despite some conservation concerns. This insectivore species occurs mainly in villages, hamlets and individual farmhouses where nesting material or artificial nests are available. The Swiss house martin population has declined significantly in the past 20 years. Other European countries also report negative trends. In locations that lack nesting material or suitable wall structures for nesting, conservation measures such as artificial nests or patches of muddy ground can help. This MSc thesis is part of an applied research project of the Swiss Ornithological Institute evaluating the different possibilities and limitations of experimentally elicited social attraction to influence breeding habitat selection as a conservation measure.

    Methods

    The effect of social attraction on the occupation rate of artificial nests is tested with a field experiment providing song playback at experimental sites with already installed artificial nests for house martins. The experimental design includes four different groups with 30 sites per treatment: 1. playback postbreeding 2021 and prebreeding 2022, 2. playback postbreeding 2021 only, 3. playback prebreeding 2022 only, 4. control (no playback). The first part of the fieldwork (providing song playback in the postbreeding season) is already being carried out until September 2021 with house martins by now showing some preference towards experimental sites with playback. The house martins’ reaction (presence, establishment, brood etc.) to the provided cues will be monitored during the breeding season in 2022. The study area is located in the Swiss Plateau (cantons of Berne, Lucerne, Solothurn, Aargau and Zurich). Accommodation in the study area is provided. Data analyses will be carried out in Sempach.

    Demands

    Interest in conservation biology, behavioural ecology and statistics; enjoying field work and exact experimental work; initiative and responsible personality; willingness to engage in conversation with people. Driving license and fluency in German is mandatory. This master project should be started not later than March 2022. Field work will take place between April and July 2022.

    Contact

    Schweizerische Vogelwarte
    Dr. Matthias Vögeli
    6204 Sempach
    email: matthias.voegeli@vogelwarte.ch
    Tel: 041 462 97 53