Nest site selection by Holarctic waterfowl: a multi-level review

Michael W. Eichholz, Johan Elmberg


Because of birds’ mobility, behaviour and many species’ migratory nature, they select repeatedly and spatially among habitats and have been central figures in studies of avian breeding habitat selection during the 20th and 21st centuries. The scientific literature on habitat use by breeding waterfowl has origins dating back to the writings of Charles Darwin in The Voyage of the Beagle, wherein he described the distribution and habitat differences of two species of geese on the Falkland Islands. Since that time, waterfowl ecologists have gone from descriptive studies of nest site characteristics used for planning waterfowl conservation and management to comparing nest site use in relation to potential habitat availability and determining selection for a wide array of ecological correlates. Waterfowl ecologists most recently have been investigating the adaptive significance of nest site selection by associating the latter with individual fitness and demographic measurements to assess the birds’ adaptability under environmental conditions at multiple scales of selection. While little direct assessment of 1st and 2nd order nest site selection has occurred (sensu Johnson 1980), available information is most consistent with the hypothesis that selection at these scales is driven by food availability. At the 3rd and 4th order of selection, data are consistent with hypotheses that both food availability and predator avoidance drive nest site selection, depending on the species and type of nesting aggregation. We also identify understudied areas of nest site selection important for the conservation and management of waterfowl and suggest that the large-scale influence of current anthropogenic and natural effects on the environment indicates that greater emphasis should be directed toward understanding waterfowl nest site selection at the 1st and 2nd orders of selection and how nesting habitat selection interfaces with community ecology of sympatric breeding waterfowl. Moreover, because habitat selection of prefledging waterfowl is inherently linked to breeding habitat selection, we suggest an updated review of brood habitat selection should ensue from our synthesis here.

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