Nest boxes buffer the effects of climate on breeding performance in an African urban raptor (dataset)

As the world’s human population increases, transformation of natural landscapes into urban habitats continues to increase. In Africa, rates of human population growth and urbanisation are among the highest in the world, but the impacts of these processes on the continent’s biodiversity remain largely unexplored. Furthermore, the effects of ongoing anthropogenic climate change are likely to be severe and to interact with urbanisation.

Some organisms appear resilient to urbanisation, and even proliferate in human-modified environments. One such species is the peregrine falcon Falco peregrinus in Cape Town, South Africa. Using a long-term data set (1989-2014), we investigate the relationship between breeding attempts, timing of breeding and breeding performance under varying weather conditions. Exploring these issues along an urbanisation gradient, we focus on the role of artificially provided nest boxes, and their capacity to buffer against extreme weather events.

Pairs in more urbanised areas, and particularly those in nest boxes, were more likely to breed and to commence breeding earlier. Additionally, pairs using nest boxes were more likely to breed in years with higher rainfall. Warm and dry weather conditions generally advanced the timing of breeding, although this relationship with weather was not seen for urban pairs using nest boxes. Furthermore, weather did not impact breeding performance directly (breeding success and fledged brood size), but timing of breeding did, with earlier breeders producing more fledglings.

Our study shows that falcons breeding in specially provided nest boxes were less sensitive to local weather dynamics than pairs using more natural nest sites. This has important implications as it suggests that the managed provision of such nesting sites can help this key urban species to cope with extreme weather events, which are predicted to increase with climate change.