ABSTRACT

Habitat suitability for breeding birds is defined at scales ranging from the landscape to individual nesting sites. Nesting site characteristics that govern exposure to inclement weather may affect breeding success, although attempts to understand this effect for Arctic breeding raptors have yielded ambiguous results. Further, breeding adults incur substantial costs from incubating eggs and brooding nestlings, and it is possible that greater site exposure results in increased nest attendance rates, increasing their cost of breeding. We quantified nesting site characteristics of Gyrfalcons (Falco rusticolus) and assessed how breeding parameters and nest attendance rates varied by protective site qualities on Alaska's Seward Peninsula, 2014–2019. The degree of physical exposure in the horizontal plane correlated negatively with the probability of hatching and fledging (provided hatch occurred), as well as overall productivity. The negative effect of horizontal exposure on the probability of fledging and productivity was greatest at nesting sites that were also more exposed in the vertical plane, although this interaction did not affect the probability of hatching. Early breeding pairs had higher productivity and tended to select more protected nesting sites. Additionally, nest attendance rates were higher in more horizontally exposed nesting sites, particularly when nestlings were approximately 2 wk old. The increased nest attendance and concurrent decreased productivity associated with greater nesting site exposure demonstrated that nesting site characteristics can have direct and indirect effects on Arctic breeding raptors and also highlight the importance of small-scale variables when evaluating habitat suitability.

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