Seed-Crop Size and Eruptions of North American Boreal Seed-Eating Birds

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:2001
Authors:Koenig, WD, Knops, JMH
Journal:Journal of Animal Ecology
Date Published:2001
ISBN Number:00218790
Keywords:Acanthis, Acanthis flammea, Bombycilla, Bombycilla garrulus, Bombycillidae, Carduelis, Carduelis flammea, Carduelis pinus, Carpodacus, Carpodacus purpureus, Fringillidae, Haemorhous, Haemorhous purpureus, Hesperiphona, Hesperiphona vespertina, Loxia, Loxia curvirostra, Loxia leucoptera, Pachyramphus, Pachyramphus polychopterus, Paridae, Parus, Parus atricapillus, Pinicola, Pinicola enucleator, Poecile, Poecile atricapillus, Sitta, Sitta canadensis, Sitta europaea, Sittidae, Spinus, Spinus pinus, Spinus spinus, Tityridae
Abstract:1. Eruptions occur when a species appears in unusually high densities within and often outside of its normal range. We used 30 years of Christmas Bird Counts combined with cone/seed-crop data on boreal coniferous trees, breeding bird surveys, and weather records to test correlates of winter eruptions by 11 species of primarily boreal North American seed-eating birds. 2. Eruptions of six species in eastern (red-breasted nuthatch Sitta canadensis L., black-capped chickadee Parus atricapillus L., evening grosbeak Hesperiphona vespertina Cooper, pine grosbeak Pinicola enucleator L., red crossbill Loxia curvirostra L. and bohemian waxwing Bombycilla garrulus L.) and five species in western North America (pine grosbeak, pine siskin Carduelis pinus Wilson, evening grosbeak, bohemian waxwing and red-breasted nuthatch) correlated with a combination of large coniferous seed crops in the previous year followed by a poor crop. Breeding population size in the year of the eruption was also correlated positively with the event in two of the species. Eruptions in these species apparently occur when large boreal seed crops resulting in high population densities (via high overwinter survivorship and/or high reproductive success) are confronted with a relatively poor seed crop the next autumn. 3. Eruptions of common redpolls Carduelis flammea L. and black-capped chickadees in the west followed only large seed crops the previous year, suggesting that high density is a more important factor leading to eruptions than seed crop failure. The opposite was true for white-winged crossbills (Loxia leucoptera Gmelin) in the east, where eruptions correlated only with poor current year seed crops. This was the only species supporting the 'seed-crop failure' hypothesis as the sole cause of eruptions. 4. Purple finches Carpodacus purpureus Gmelin erupted following years when breeding population densities were high for reasons apparently unrelated to the seed crop. Eruptions of three species in both regions were uncorrelated with any of the variables tested. 5. We conclude that seed crops of boreal trees play a pivotal role in causing eruptions for a majority of boreal species, usually through a combination of a large seed crop resulting in high population densities followed by a poor seed crop rather than seed-crop failure alone. Weather conditions were not a significant factor correlating with eruptions in any of the species.
Short Title:Journal of Animal Ecology
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