Brown-headed cowbird parasitism on endangered species: relationships with neighboring avian species
Authors: S. L. Farrell
Brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater) parasitism on the endangered black-capped vireo (Vireo atricapilla) is a management concern. Management for black-capped vireos in east-central Texas has focused on habitat restoration through vegetation modification. However, loss of productivity due to parasitism may limit the potential habitat restoration in restoring black-capped vireo populations. I investigated the relationships between frequency of parasitism on black-capped and white-eyed (V. griseus) vireos and characteristics of the neighboring avian assemblage to identify avian characteristics useful for predicting expected frequency of parasitism. I located and monitored vireo nests in March–July 2006 to determine frequency of cowbird parasitism on the 2 vireo species on 6 study sites on private land in east-central Texas. I conducted 100-m-radius circular-plot point count surveys on study sites from 1 April– 31 June 2006 to identify neighboring avian assemblages. All black-capped vireo nests (n = 20) and 81% of white-eyed vireo nests (n = 27) were parasitized. Species richness, species evenness, cumulative bird abundance, and cowbird host abundance did not differ significantly among study sites. Parasitism frequency was positively correlated with the number of cowbirds detected (r2 = 0.673, P = 0.045). Parasitism frequency was negatively correlated with abundance (r2 = 0.687, P = 0.042) and proportion of (r2 = 0.692, P = 0.040) of black-and-white warblers (Mniotilta varia), known cowbird hosts. I did not find a relationship between parasitism frequency and abundance of other cowbird hosts. The relationship between black-and-white warbler abundance and parasitism frequency may reflect an interaction between parasitism and the vegetation characteristics associated with black-and-white warblers, suggesting the need for future study of the relationships between parasitism frequency and vegetation characteristics in the study region. The frequency of parasitism I observed suggests that cowbird control may be an important management tool if management objectives in the study region continue to include recovery of black-capped vireo populations. Number of cowbirds may be a reasonable predictor of expected parasitism frequency in an area, which may be useful to land managers in selecting areas for implementation of cowbird control.
Farrell, S. L. 2007. Brown-headed cowbird parasitism on endangered species: relationships with neighboring avian species. Thesis, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, USA.