I found this article on the Black-capped Vireo and cowbird predation especially interesting as several years ago I had the opportunity to spend the day at Fort Hood in central Texas, where much of this study took place. The fine folks from the Nature Conservancy were studying both the Black-capped Vireo and Golden-cheeked Warbler and working on conservation of the these two endangered species. Black-capped Vireos prefer to nest in disturbed areas and it was interesting to learn that a popular nesting location was located where training ordinances were detonated.
From Avian Conservation & Ecology
Lauren E Walker, School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA
John M Marzluff, School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA
Abstract: Full article here.
Breeding birds vocalize to find mates and establish and defend territories, but these same critical communications may also attract predators or brood parasites, placing birds in a cruel bind. Although vigilant birds may better maintain social relationships with mates and neighbors through frequent vocalizations, reticent birds may reduce risk to their nests by being relatively quiet and making infrequent vocalizations. Selection for vocalization patterns that minimize brood parasitism might be particularly strong for birds that are unable to fledge both their own young and the parasite. Temporal plasticity in the frequency of vocalizations near nests, however, may allow birds to balance trade-offs and optimize nest-defense strategies. The Black-capped Vireo (Vireo atricapilla) is an endangered songbird that faces intensive brood parasitism in areas where Brown-headed Cowbirds (Molothrus ater) are present. Vireo nests that produce cowbird fledglings always fail to fledge vireo young. We recorded vocalizations at vireo nests across three nesting stages (building, laying, and early incubation) and three periods of the day (morning, midday, and evening) and compared vocalization frequency with eventual depredation or parasitism fate as well as local cowbird density to test two hypotheses. The predator-attraction hypothesis predicts that predators will be attracted by frequent vocalizations, whereas cowbirds will parasitize nests with relatively quiet parents and less predation risk; thus, vireos will experience trade-offs between reticence and vigilance in mediating specific risks. The parasite-assessment hypothesis predicts that vireos will become more secretive as local cowbird densities increase. Vireo vocalization response to nest predation and parasitism risk interacted with nest stage, and we found little evidence of risk mediation through vocalizations except during the building stage. Vireos, however, did benefit overall by optimizing temporal patterns in vocalizations. Vireo nests were less likely to be depredated or parasitized if males vocalized most during laying and least during the middle of the day. Birds vocalized more during the midday and less during the laying period when local cowbird densities were higher, however, perhaps demonstrating limited plasticity in social communication.