Wildlife Research Wildlife Research Society
Ecology, management and conservation in natural and modified habitats
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Does farm-scale habitat composition predict pest-bird numbers and distribution?

Catriona J. MacLeod A D , Daniel M. Tompkins A , Keven W. Drew B and Nick Pyke C

A Landcare Research, Private Bag 1930, Dunedin 9054, New Zealand.

B Landcare Research, PO Box 40, Lincoln 7640, Canterbury, New Zealand.

C Foundation for Arable Research, PO Box 80, Lincoln 7640, Canterbury, New Zealand.

D Corresponding author. Email: macleodc@landcareresearch.co.nz

Wildlife Research 38(6) 464-474 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WR11045
Submitted: 8 March 2011  Accepted: 4 September 2011   Published: 11 November 2011

Abstract

Context: Bird damage to horticultural crops causes significant economic losses for growers around the globe. However, bird damage is unpredictable and pest-bird movements and abundance patterns are poorly understood.

Aims: To assess whether habitat management is likely to be an effective approach for controlling two pest-bird species (house sparrow, Passer domesticus, and greenfinch, Carduelis chloris) in New Zealand’s arable landscape.

Methods: Breeding- and winter-bird and habitat surveys were carried out over a 3-year period (2003–05) on 19 1-km × 1-km squares with arable crops on the Canterbury Plains, New Zealand. Bird abundance and/or distribution were analysed with respect to both temporal and spatial (crop- and boundary-habitat composition) variables.

Results: Estimated breeding-season densities for house sparrow were higher but more stable than those for greenfinch (which increased by 70% over a 3-year period), and for individual farms were more predictable across years than were winter densities. Boundary habitat was the best predictor of bird densities and distribution in the breeding season; features associated with enhanced seed abundance or access were important in the winter. However, habitat composition alone could not account for temporal and spatial variation in bird densities on farms.

Conclusions: Either habitat management or the reduction of key seed resources could potentially control pest-bird numbers. However, habitat management is likely to have adverse consequences for other important functions (such as the shelter and biodiversity benefits of shelterbelts), and any form of bird control applied at the farm scale is unlikely to be effective.

Implications: To make control actions both effective and economically viable, a coordinated program involving multiple farms is likely to be needed. We recommend investigating the effectiveness of an experimental manipulation of key food resources at the landscape scale.

Additional keywords:: bird damage, farmland birds, habitat, introduced species, pest mangagement.


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