Predation is considered an important factor affecting the life histories and breeding strategies of hole nesting birds. Breeding losses in this group of birds are related to such nest site characteristics as entrance size, nest site depth and danger distance - the distance between the outer edge of the entrance to the centre of the nest's bottom, which determines how far a predator unable to enter the hole would have to reach to obtain its contents. It is suggested that birds assess predation risk and adjust their breeding investments accordingly. We tested the hypothesis that in shallow nest sites, birds build smaller nests to maintain the largest danger distance possible. During the experiment, two types of nestboxes were available to birds: those typical for small passerines (with a depth of 21 cm), and shallower ones (with a 16 cm depth). Breeding parameters were obtained by controlling nestboxes, the distances between eggs and entrances were measured, and nests were weighed just after the young fledged. Breeding phenology and clutch size did not differ between the types of nestboxes. Nest site depth influenced nest mass, and according to our assumptions, nests were significantly lighter in shallow nestboxes. A clear, negative relationship was found between nest mass and the danger distance — eggs in larger (heavier) nests were closer to the entrance. Breeding success (number of fledglings per eggs laid) was lower for shallow nestboxes compared to normal ones, and nest mass negatively influenced the number of fledglings and breeding success. The results of this study suggest that Great Tits perceive nest site depth and adjust nest building according to predation risks. Nest size (mass) in shallow sites may be limited by the danger distance, but it is also possible that the number of trips with nest material, which could lead to the detection of the site, is also important. However, both explanations are not mutually exclusive, and both are related to avoiding predator pressure.
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