Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Behaviour of stoats (Mustela erminea) raiding the nests of rock wrens (Xenicus gilviventris) in alpine New Zealand

TitleBehaviour of stoats (Mustela erminea) raiding the nests of rock wrens (Xenicus gilviventris) in alpine New Zealand
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsLittle, L, King, CM, O'Donnell, CFJ
Type of ArticleFull article
Keywordsinfrared cameras, mustelids, predation, predator control

Understanding the behaviour of invasive predators is an important step in developing effective predator control techniques. Stoats (Mustela erminea), introduced to New Zealand in the 1880s, are major predators of indigenous birds in forest, wetland, and coastal habitats, and are an emerging threat to alpine biodiversity. Stoats have recently been found to prey upon rock wrens (Xenicus gilviventris), New Zealand’s only truly alpine bird species. We monitored 32 rock wren nests using motion activated infrared (IR) cameras from 2 locations in the Southern Alps over 3 breeding seasons, 2012-2015. The behaviour of stoats that preyed upon 13 rock wren nests was quantified to describe how they behaved around rock wren nests, and to determine whether understanding these behaviours could lead to improved predator control to help to protect this vulnerable bird species. Stoats usually hunted alone. They could reach nests on cliffs and on the ground equally easily by climbing or jumping to them. Rock wren nests were attacked most frequently during the day (85% of nests) and at the chick stage in their life cycle, making this their most vulnerable stage. We suggest that this is because stoats are attracted to nests by the auditory cues of chicks calling out for food. Nests were rarely visited by stoats before or after the observed predation events. Stoats left little evidence of nest predation events beyond enlarging nest entrances. There was no indication that IR cameras or the actions of field workers affected predation behaviour, although some stoats clearly knew the cameras were there. There is an urgent need to deploy effective stoat control to recover rock wren populations. Control should focus on cliff habitats as well as on more accessible ground nests, and, if resources are limited, should primarily focus on the nestling stage. Future research could trial auditory lures to attract stoats to traps, and determine the vulnerability of rock wrens to predation outside the breeding season.

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