Nest height is affected by lamppost lighting proximity in addition to nestbox size in urban great tits

Holveck, Marie-Jeanne; Gregoire, Arnaud; Doutrelant, Claire; Lambrechts, Marcel

6 November 2018

Both natural and artificial light have proximate influences on many aspects of avian biology, physiology and behaviour. To date artificial light at night is mostly considered as being a nuisance disrupting for instance sleep and reproduction of diurnal species. Here, we investigate if lamppost night lighting affects cavity-nesting bird species inside their breeding cavity. Nest height in secondary cavity-nesting species is the result of trade-offs between several selective forces. Predation is the prevailing force leading birds to build thin nests to increase the distance towards the entrance hole. A thin nest may also limit artificial light exposure at night. Yet, a minimum level of daylight inside nesting cavities is necessary for adequate visual communication and/or offspring development. Against this background, we hypothesised that avian nest-building behaviour varies in response to a change in night lighting. We monitored nest height of urban great tits (Parus major) during six years and found that it varied with artificial light proximity. The birds built thinner nests inside nestboxes of various sizes in response to increasing lamppost night light availability at the nest. In large nestboxes, the nests were also thinner when a lamppost was present in the territory. Whether this relationship between artificial night lighting and nest height reflects a positive or negative effect of urbanisation is discussed in the light of recent experimental studies conducted in rural populations by other research groups.