Selection of a breeding site is critical for many animals, especially for birds whose offspring are stationary during development. Thus, birds are often assumed to prefer concealed nest sites. However, 74% of studies (n = 106) that have evaluated this relationship for open-cup nesting songbirds in North America failed to support the nest-concealment hypothesis. We conducted a comparative analysis to identify factors that contribute to variation in the ability of researchers to find support for the nest-concealment hypothesis. We found that some of the discrepancy among studies can be explained by interspecific differences in morphological and extrinsic factors that affect nest predation. Moreover, methods that investigators used to estimate concealment affected whether studies found support for the nest-concealment hypothesis; 33% of the studies that used quantitative estimates found support for the nest-concealment hypothesis whereas only 10% of the studies that used qualitative estimates found support. The timing of measurements also explained some of the ambiguity; studies that provided little information regarding the timing of their foliage density estimates were less likely to support the nest-concealment hypothesis. Species with more conspicuous male plumage were less likely to support the nest-concealment hypothesis when we analyzed studies that used visual estimates. Whereas species with more conspicuous female plumage were more likely to support the nest-concealment hypothesis when we analyzed studies that used quantitative measures. Our results demonstrate that support for the nest-concealment hypothesis has been equivocal, but that some of the ambiguity can be explained by morphological traits and methods used to measure concealment.
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