Habitat loss and altered disturbance regimes have led to declines in many species of grassland and sagebrush birds, including the imperiled Mountain Plover (Charadrius montanus). In certain parts of their range Mountain Plovers rely almost exclusively on black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) colonies as nesting habitat. Previous studies have examined Mountain Plover nest and brood survival on prairie dog colonies, but little is known about how colony size and shape influence these vital rates or patterns of habitat selection. We examined how (1) adult habitat utilization, (2) nest-site selection, and (3) nest success responded to a suite of local- and site-level variables on large prairie dog colony complexes in northeastern Wyoming. Abundance of adult Mountain Plovers was highest on points within older, “medium”-sized (100–500 ha) colonies with high cover of annual forbs and bare ground (5.8 birds km–2), but lower on extremely large (>2,000 ha) colonies (2.1 birds km–2). Nest sites were characterized by high proportions of annual forbs and bare ground and low cactus cover and vegetation height. Nest survival was higher for older nests, and nests with lower cactus cover, and decreased with increasing temperatures. Uncertainty was high for models of daily nest survival, potentially because of 2 competing sources of nest failure: nest depredation and nest abandonment or inviability of eggs. Drivers of these 2 sources of nest failure differed, with inclement weather and higher temperatures associated with nest abandonment or egg inviability. We highlight how prairie dogs alter vegetation structure and bare ground heterogeneously across the landscape, and how this in turn influences bird abundance and nest distribution at different temporal and spatial scales. Furthermore, our work reveals how partitioning the causes of nest failure during nest survival analyses enhances understanding of survival rate covariates.
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Vol. 122 • No. 1