During 1996–2000, I studied the nesting ecology of Sprague's Pipits (Anthus spragueii), Clay-colored Sparrows (Spizella pallida), Savannah Sparrows (Passerculus sandwichensis), Baird's Sparrows (Ammodramus bairdii), Chestnut-collared Longspurs (Calcarius ornatus), and Western Meadowlarks (Sturnella neglecta) on 47 native mixed-grass prairie pastures in southern Saskatchewan. Predation was the primary cause of nest failure and occurred at a similar frequency among the six species. Nest success and productivity varied among years and was lowest during 1997, the year of a substantial increase in meadow vole (Microtus pennsylvanicus) populations in southern Saskatchewan. Nest predation was most severe during the nestling stage with daily survival rates typically lower than those of the incubation period. Brown-headed Cowbirds (Molothrus ater) parasitized nests of all six species, with 5–29% of host nests containing cowbird eggs. Savannah Sparrows, Clay-colored Sparrows, and Western Meadowlarks incurred the highest frequency of brood parasitism. Parasitized hosts experienced lower productivity due to a combination of reductions in clutch size, hatching success, and fledging success. Overall, brood parasitism by cowbirds cost these birds between 1.3 and 2.2 young per successful nest. These results support the general contention that nest predation is the primary factor influencing grassland songbird reproductive success.
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