Patterns of nest defense against predators by ground-nesting bird species in the wild are poorly understood, largely because of a historical inability to directly monitor nests. Most nest-defense studies have observed responses elicited from artificial predators or human observers presented to nesting birds, and few have attempted to present these events in the context of predator—prey relationships found in the wild. We hypothesized that predator threat level (e.g., the threat posed to the clutch or to the clutch and the attending adult), parental characteristics, clutch investment, and future reproductive opportunities would influence avian nest-defense decisions. During 1999–2006, we examined predation events (n = 242) from 790 video-monitored Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus) nests. We evaluated parental, predator, daily, and seasonal correlates that potentially contributed to patterns of nest defense by Northern Bobwhites using a model selection approach. The top model showed that nest defense was strongest at nests with larger predators that posed a threat to both adults and the clutch. This model also contained clutch size, but parameter estimates suggest that predator type was the only significant factor determining rates of nest defense. Our results suggest that Northern Bobwhites use the threat posed to the nest and the attending adult by the approaching predator as the primary cue in decisions to engage in nest defense.
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