Cowbird parasitism of Pale-headed Brush-finch Atlapetes pallidiceps: Implications for conservation and management

Steffen Oppel, H. Martin Schaefer, Veronika Schmidt, Boris Schröder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Pale-headed Brush-finch Allapetes pallidiceps is a restricted-range species that is threatened with extinction due to habitat loss. The total population of 60-80 individuals achieved a reproductive output of only 0.74 young per breeding pair in 2002. Brood parasitism by Shiny Cowbird Molothrus bonariensis was a major factor reducing breeding success, affecting 38.5% of broods. Parasitism rates reached 50% in an ungrazed reserve, but only 14% on an adjacent grazed plot. The resulting difference in breeding success was not, however, attributable to vegetation parameters used to describe microhabitat use. Cowbird parasitism rates therefore seem to be influenced largely by factors operating at the landscape level. These may include grazing scheme, topography, humidity and host availability. It is suggested that lower species diversity and bird abundance rendered the grazed site less attractive to cowbirds. Current parasitism rates are of great conservation concern due to the low population size of Pale-headed Brush-finch, and the initiation of controlling measures is pressing. Management options described from intensive cowbird control programmes in North America are reviewed and evaluated for their applicability here. To combine the possibility of further data collection with commencement of immediate conservation action, we consider two alternative approaches. Nest monitoring and cowbird egg removal would enable the study of the distribution of parasitism in relation to landscape and vegetation variables, whereas cowbird shooting and nest monitoring might provide a larger short-term benefit to reproductive output. Habitat management, resumption of some grazing in the reserve and cowbird removal should be considered for the intermediate future.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)63-75
Number of pages13
JournalBird Conservation International
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2004
Externally publishedYes


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