Ground-nesting Common Nighthawks (Chordeiles minor), adapted to living and reproducing in North American cities, nest on flat-topped gravel roofs. But populations of Common Nighthawks have declined in recent years throughout their range. One hypothesis to explain these declines is that American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos), which have increased dramatically in numbers in urban areas in recent years, may be depredating nighthawk nests. If urban crows are a factor in nighthawk declines, we predicted there would be higher rates of predation on nests in urban areas than in rural areas. We tested this hypothesis by placing and monitoring artificial nests containing Coturnix quail eggs in both urban and rural settings. Depredation of experimental clutches was significantly lower in rural, natural habitats than in the urban environment. The type of substrate on urban roofs may also be important in influencing rates of depredation, as egg-loss was more common at experimental nests on roofs with a small pea gravel substrate than on roofs covered in larger river stone. In all cases, identified predators were American Crows. While experimental predation rates may not represent actual levels of predation on natural nests, these relative differences in rates of predation suggest that urban crows may be an important contributor to declining populations of Common Nighthawks.
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