Evaluating Agricultural Applications of Orchard Nest Boxes and Perches for a Declining Raptor Species: Quantifying Impacts on Pest Rodents and Birds

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2015: $9,959.00
Projected End Date: 05/01/2018
Grant Recipient: Michigan State University
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Catherine Lindell
Michigan State University

Annual Reports


  • Fruits: cherries


  • Pest Management: Nest Boxes

    Proposal abstract:

    Management of pest species via a native predator is a sustainable practice that promotes natural predator-prey relationships in agroecosystems. Previous studies have shown that raptors can reduce rodent and bird prey abundances. The American Kestrel is a widespread species of falcon that has shown long-term population declines due in part to loss of natural nesting cavities; however, kestrels readily use nest boxes, which allow for breeding in areas that may provide valuable hunting habitat, such as agricultural areas. Farmers can therefore easily install these low-cost nest boxes to attract breeding kestrels. However, the use of kestrels for agricultural pest management has received limited investigation. New nest boxes installed in Michigan cherry orchards since 2012 have been used extensively by kestrels. In addition, my early dissertation research has shown that these kestrels kill known pest species. This project will provide quantitative assessments of kestrel predation to evaluate the potential for kestrels to contribute to an Integrated Pest Management strategy for orchards in the North Central region.I will conduct summer surveys to determine whether artificial perches can increase kestrel presence in orchards and in turn reduce fruit-eating bird abundances. I will also use fall and winter camera trap surveys to determine whether summer kestrel presence, overwintering raptor presence, and orchard features such as snow depth and edge habitat affect rodent abundances during the winter, when damage to trees is most likely. Finally, I will employ my nest box cameras to obtain a comprehensive record of prey deliveries to nests, and I will use GPS data loggers to measure habitat use and home range sizes. I will use these data to produce predictive models of prey removal based on estimates of how many prey breeding kestrels remove and over what spatial extent their predation occurs.Growers can use these results to inform their choice to install kestrel nest boxes and perches in and around orchards in order to reduce and/or complement use of more financially and environmentally costly deterrence methods, such as rodenticides. Fruit consumers view nest box use for pest management favorably, so nest boxes may provide additional financial incentives through marketing benefits. Finally, orchard nest boxes for kestrels provide growers with a way to participate in conservation of a declining native species.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Objective 1) Effect of supplemental perches on kestrel presence and fruit-eating bird abundances in orchards:

    My 2014 telemetry study of orchard use suggests that kestrel activity in orchards is based on activities at the nest box rather than consistent hunting in the orchard. I hypothesize that a lack of suitable perches, especially in young, open orchards with small trees, limits orchard use by kestrels. Furthermore, I hypothesize that increased kestrel presence will increase predation pressure on prey bird species.

    Objective 2) Effect of kestrel nest boxes and supplemental perches on winter rodent abundances in orchards:

    Small mammal trapping that I conducted in 2014 indicates that Microtus voles are not present in high numbers in orchards during the summer; however, I hypothesize that snow cover provides adequate cover for voles in will result in higher abundances in the winter, when damage to trees is most likely. I will use small mammal camera traps to determine the effect of summer kestrel presence in nest boxes and the continued winter presence of perches on winter small mammal abundance in orchards.

    Objective 3) Estimating number of prey removed and extent of prey removal by kestrels breeding in orchard nest boxes:

    I aim to estimate the prey removal efforts of kestrels using orchard nest boxes and develop models that can predict the number and types of prey that breeding kestrels will capture, as well as the size of the area from which prey will be captured.
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.