Adult Common Terns (Sterna hirundo) reportedly respond to nocturnal predation by deserting colonies from the time of disturbance until dawn the following morning. However, direct evidence for this behavioral response is limited because the nocturnal behavior of individual terns is difficult to monitor due to low visibility and the vulnerability of terns to disturbance at night. We monitored the nocturnal incubation behavior of 10 pairs of nesting Common Terns using continuously recording temperature sensors disguised in dummy eggs and placed in the nests. Changes in egg temperature during the night suggested that a range of desertion behaviors occurred in response to visits by a Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) that preyed on chicks and adult terns. As many as three desertion events (desertion at one or more nests in a single 12-min period) were detected on a single night and nests were unattended for an average of 54 min (range 8-352 min) per desertion event. Nest temperature sensors allowed us to detect individual responses to nocturnal predators and to determine that desertion behavior was more varied than previously assumed. Desertion events were most frequent when physical evidence indicated the presence of an owl in the colony and during nights after owl predation, suggesting that desertion is a response to the actual risk of predation as well as to the possibility of predation.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics