Hole nesting birds, due to the long lasting nature of cavities, use their nest sites for many years. Therefore, they may face the problem of the presence of nest material from previous breeding seasons. For a long time, the problem of old nest presence was not addressed in studies of this group of birds because nestboxes, a useful tool in studies of hole nesters, were cleaned by investigators, with old nests removed before each breeding season. In this review, the available results of experiments related to the effects of old nests on hole nesting birds are collected, recapitulated and discussed. The possible effects of old nests on nest site choice and breeding parameters, such as phenology, clutch size, fledging condition, as well as on ectoparasite numbers in a new nest, are presented. The findings show that studies on the problem of old nests started to be conducted mainly in the early 1990's, and to date more then thirty papers have been published related to this topic. The most frequent subjects of such studies in Europe were the Pied Flycather Ficedula hypoleuca, Blue and Great Tits Cyanistes caeruleus, Parus major, and European Starling Sturnus vulgaris, while in North America — the House Wren Troglodytes aedon and Eastern Bluebird Sialia sialis. The analysis of existing papers reveals that a majority of studies did not find any significant effect of old nest presence on nest site selection. In most papers, the presence of old nests did not influence birds' breeding parameters. Worse reproductive output in nestboxes containing old nests was found very rarely, and in particular seasons or study areas. Data on ectoparasite occurrence in relation to the presence of old nest material were presented only in a few papers. Fewer fleas were found in new nests built in artificially cleaned sites compared to sites containing old nests. The abundance of mites and blow fly larvae was not related to nestbox treatment. The results of this review suggest that there is no clear pattern of effects of old nest presence on hole nesters' breeding. It seems that the location of the study area, which influences the time available for birds' reproduction, is especially important for migratory species, and the impact of the ectoparasites dominating in a given study area may influence obtained results. This paper also suggests the direction of future work in this topic. Of most importance are studies carried out in natural tree holes, as the decomposition rate of old nest material could be much higher in such cavities than in nestboxes, and studies providing detailed descriptions of the costs and benefits of nest site cleaning behaviour of the birds themselves.
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Vol. 42 • No. 1