We studied local patterns of Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater) abundance, parasitism rates, and nest success of a common host, the Plumbeous Vireo (Vireo plumbeus), in relation to the distribution of livestock grazing in an undeveloped region of northeastern New Mexico, 1992-1997. We predicted that both cowbird abundance and parasitism rates of vireo nests would decrease with increasing distance from active livestock grazing, and that the nesting success of vireos would increase. We measured cowbird abundance and host density and located and monitored vireo nests in pinyon-juniper and mixed-conifer habitats that ranged from actively grazed to isolated from livestock grazing by up to 12 km. Cowbird abundance declined with distance from active livestock grazing and was not related to host density or habitat type. Brood parasitism levels of vireo nests (n = 182) decreased from >80% in actively grazed habitats to 33% in habitats that were 8-12 km from active grazing but did not vary by habitat type or distance to forest edge. Vireo nesting success was higher in mixed-conifer habitat than in pinyon-juniper but was unrelated to distance from active livestock grazing. Nest losses due to parasitism declined with distance from active livestock grazing. Our results suggest that cowbird abundance and parasitism rates of hosts may be distributed as a declining gradient based on distance from cowbird feeding sites and that isolation from feeding sites can reduce the effects of parasitism on host populations. These findings provide support for management techniques that propose to reduce local cowbird numbers and parasitism levels by manipulating the distribution of cowbird feeding sites. The presence of parasitized nests >8 km from active livestock grazing suggests that, in some regions, management efforts may need to occur at larger scales than previously realized.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Nature and Landscape Conservation