Context. Loss of eggs to predators is a major cause of reproductive failure among birds. It is especially pronounced among ground-nesting birds because their eggs are accessible to a wide range of predators. Few studies document the main causes of clutch fate of ground-nesting birds.
Aims. The main objective of the present study was to identify the major egg predator of red-capped plovers (Charadrius ruficapillus). We also investigated the effectiveness of the following two primary strategies available to the plovers to avoid egg predation: (1) the placement of clutches under vegetative cover and (2) avoiding predators by nesting outside the peak season of predator occurrence.
Methods. Remote-sensing cameras were deployed on plover nests to identify egg predators and nests were monitored over four breeding seasons to document reproductive success and fate. An experiment using false clutches with model eggs investigated the influence of nest cover on the risk of egg predation throughout the year. Line-transect surveys were conducted to estimate the abundance of egg predators in and around the wetlands.
Key results. The little raven (Corvus mellori) was the major egg predator identified in 78.6% of red-capped plover clutches and in 92.4% of false clutches that were camera-monitored. The hatching success of plover eggs was not influenced by nest cover (P = 0.36), but model egg survival in false clutches improved significantly with the presence of nest cover (P = 0.02). The abundance of little ravens increased during the plover breeding season and was highly negatively correlated with false clutch survival (rpearson = –0.768, P = 0.005).
Conclusions. Little ravens were the major predator of red-capped plover eggs and their abundance increased significantly during the plover breeding season. Any influence of nest cover on hatching success of eggs may have been masked by the extremely high rate of egg loss associated with the increased little raven abundance during the plover breeding season.
Implications. The high rate of egg predation is likely to have negative consequences on the local red-capped plover population, suggesting management is warranted. Little raven populations have expanded and, thus, their impact as egg predators needs to be investigated especially on threatened species.