The possible function of stone ramparts at the nest entrance of the blackstart

Noam Leader, Yoram Yom-Tov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Blackstarts, Cercomela melanura, Turdidae, construct a rampart of stones at the entrance to their nests. These ramparts may reach remarkable proportions, containing hundreds of flat rocks. We investigated several hypotheses regarding the function of stone ramparts, by monitoring individually marked blackstarts at the En-Gedi Nature Reserve, Israel. Stones were collected solely by females, who carried them in their beaks, while flying to the nest, at a rate of up to one stone per min, after pair formation had occurred. The number and total weight of stones as well as rampart height showed a highly positive correlation with the size of the nest cavity opening. The rampart decreased the size of the cavity entrance to some nests by as much as 67%, which suggests an antipredator barrier function. Survival rates of eggs and chicks were extremely low and the major cause of reproductive failure was predation. Successful nests tended to be located higher off the ground than predated nests, and often contained fewer stones. Furthermore, larger females in terms of wing and tail length nested in cavities higher off the ground and built smaller ramparts containing lighter stones. An artificial nest predation experiment did not reveal a difference in predation rates between nests with and without stone ramparts. Spiny mice, Acomys sp., were the main egg predators. However, in 37% of nests with ramparts that were predated, the perpetrator flattened the rampart, suggesting that they may serve as a barricade, forcing the predator to invest time in clearing the stones in order to gain access to the nest, and perhaps allowing the nesting female sufficient time to escape. We propose, therefore, that owing to such high nest predation rates, females nesting close to the ground build stone ramparts as an 'early warning' mechanism to prevent themselves from being trapped inside nest cavities and predated.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)207-217
Number of pages11
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Volume56
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 1998

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