Many bird species utilize the presence of conspecifics to gauge habitat quality and guide territory selection. When individuals preferentially settle in areas where conspecifics are perceived, this process is referred to as conspecific attraction. Substantial attention has been given to how natural and simulated social signals can recruit species to protected habitats, particularly as a conservation tool for migratory songbirds. While there is strong experimental evidence that broadcasting territorial song is a feasible strategy to recruit male songbirds, most experiments carried out to date have been in high-density populations and at a local scale. Because many species of conservation concern persist at low densities across heterogeneous landscapes, and because conspecific attraction as a management strategy has the most potential to benefit these species, it is important to test its efficacy in low-density populations. We tested the response to conspecific attraction in a low-density population of the declining Golden-winged Warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera) across private lands in a 500 km2 study area. We observed a modest (0.276 ± 0.135 males) increase in estimated male abundance at points within 250 m of experimentally broadcast social cues (“treatment points”), with estimated abundance generally decreasing at untreated control points across the study area in that year. Male recruitment at treatment points was greater than at control points, but when control points were split into high- and low-density points, male recruitment was the same at treatment and low-density control points. The number of males recruited to conspecific playback was lower in our study than what has been observed in previous studies of conspecific attraction in high-density systems. Our results suggest that expectations for and applications of conspecific attraction need to be tailored to the density and distribution of the target population.
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Vol. 118 • No. 3