Sound settlement: noise surpasses land cover in explaining breeding habitat selection of secondary cavity-nesting birds

Ecol Appl. 2017 Jan;27(1):260-273. doi: 10.1002/eap.1437.


Birds breeding in heterogeneous landscapes select nest sites by cueing in on a variety of factors from landscape features and social information to the presence of natural enemies. We focus on determining the relative impact of anthropogenic noise on nest site occupancy, compared to amount of forest cover, which is known to strongly influence the selection process. We examine chronic, industrial noise from natural gas wells directly measured at the nest box as well as site-averaged noise, using a well-established field experimental system in northwestern New Mexico. We hypothesized that high levels of noise, both at the nest site and in the environment, would decrease nest box occupancy. We set up nest boxes using a geospatially paired control and experimental site design and analyzed four years of occupancy data from four secondary cavity-nesting birds common to the Colorado Plateau. We found different effects of noise and landscape features depending on species, with strong effects of noise observed in breeding habitat selection of Myiarchus cinerascens, the Ash-throated Flycatcher, and Sialia currucoides, the Mountain Bluebird. In contrast, the amount of forest cover less frequently explained habitat selection for those species or had a smaller standardized effect than the acoustic environment. Although forest cover characterization and management is commonly employed by natural resource managers, our results show that characterizing and managing the acoustic environment should be an important tool in protected area management.

Keywords: acoustic environment; anthropogenic noise; birds; cavity-nesting; energy-sector; forest cover; nest selection; soundscape.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ecosystem*
  • Forests
  • Nesting Behavior*
  • New Mexico
  • Noise*
  • Oil and Gas Industry*
  • Passeriformes / physiology*