Animals are subject to ecological traps when anthropogenic changes create habitat that appears suitable but when selected results in decreased fitness. The Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus) breeds in boreal wetlands and has declined by 85–95% over the last half century. We studied nest-site selection and daily nest-survival rate (DSR) of 43 Rusty Blackbird nests in northern New England and evaluated whether regenerating logged areas adjacent to wetlands created ecological traps. Although nesting adults avoided high-canopied forests and selected areas with dense balsam fir (Abies balasmea) 1 to 3 m high, those characteristics were not associated with DSR. Conversely, the frequency of speckled alder (Alnus incana) and sedges (Cyperaceae) in the nest plot varied with DSR, suggesting that the risk of predation of nests within wetlands was lower. DSR also varied with past logging; nests in plots not harvested recently were 2.3× more likely to fledge young than nests in plots harvested within 20 years. When logging extends to the edges of or into wetlands, the subsequent dense regenerating conifers appear to attract Rusty Blackbirds to nest closer to or within these human-altered uplands, exposing their nests to increased predation not typical of unaltered wetlands. Three surrogates for habitat preference did not differ by timber-management history, suggesting that the birds do not prefer habitats that increase their fitness. Rusty Blackbirds nesting in harvested wetlands may be subject to “equal preference” ecological traps, and we suggest that buffers 75 m wide around the perimeter of suitable wetlands should increase DSR.
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