Although the influence of nuclear accidents on the reproduction of top predators has not been investigated, it is important that we identify the effects of such accidents because humans are also top predators. We conducted field observation for 22 years and analysed the reproductive performance of the goshawk (Accipiter gentilis fujiyamae), a top avian predator in the North Kanto area of Japan, before and after the accidents at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant that occurred in 2011. The reproductive performance declined markedly compared with the pre-accident years and progressively decreased for the three post-accident study years. Moreover, it was suggested that these declines were primarily caused by an increase in the air dose rate of radio-active contaminants measured under the nests caused by the nuclear accidents, rather than by other factors. We consider the trends in the changes of the reproductive success rates and suggest that internal exposure may play an important role in the reproductive performance of the goshawk, as well as external exposure.
Black sparrowhawks (Accipiter melanoleucus) recently colonised the Cape Peninsula, South Africa, where the species faces competition for their nest sites from Egyptian geese (Alopochen aegyptiaca) which frequently usurp black sparrowhawk nests. In this paper, we test the hypothesis that multiple nest building by black sparrowhawks is a strategy to cope with this competitor, based on a 14-year long term data set.
Diet studies present numerous methodological challenges. We evaluated the usefulness of commercially available trail-cameras for analyzing the diet of Northern Goshawks (Accipiter gentilis) as a model for nesting raptors during the period 2007-2011. We compared diet estimates obtained by direct camera monitoring of 80 nests with four indirect analyses of prey remains collected from the nests and surroundings (pellets, bones, feather-and-hair remains, and feather-hair-and-bone remains combined). In addition, we evaluated the performance of the trail-cameras and whether camera monitoring affected Goshawk behavior. The sensitivity of each diet-analysis method depended on prey size and taxonomic group, with no method providing unbiased estimates for all prey sizes and types. The cameras registered the greatest number of prey items and were probably the least biased method for estimating diet composition. Nevertheless this direct method yielded the largest proportion of prey unidentified to species level, and it underestimated small prey. Our trail-camera system was able to operate without maintenance for longer periods than what has been reported in previous studies with other types of cameras. Initially Goshawks showed distrust toward the cameras but they usually became habituated to its presence within 1-2 days. The habituation period was shorter for breeding pairs that had previous experience with cameras. Using trail-cameras to monitor prey provisioning to nests is an effective tool for studying the diet of nesting raptors. However, the technique is limited by technical failures and difficulties in identifying certain prey types. Our study also shows that cameras can alter adult Goshawk behavior, an aspect that must be controlled to minimize potential negative impacts.
Colour polymorphism may be maintained within a population by disruptive-selection. One hypothesis proposes that different morphs are adapted to different ambient light conditions, with lighter morphs having a selective advantage in bright conditions and darker morphs having advantages in darker conditions. The mechanism for this advantage is proposed to be through enhanced crypsis via background-matching. We explore this hypothesis in a polymorphic raptor, the black sparrowhawk Accipiter melanoleucus, which exhibits a discrete dark and white-morph. We use GPS-tracking data to contrast the foraging behaviour and habitat selection of morphs. As predicted, we found that light-levels influenced foraging behaviour in different ways for morphs: Dark-morphs showed a decrease in foraging with increasing light-levels; whereas no relationship was found for white-morphs. Furthermore, we found differential-degrees of habitat selection, with dark-morphs selecting more enclosed habitats compared to white-morphs. This suggests that different morphs may be better adapted to foraging under different light-conditions, potentially playing a role in maintaining colour polymorphism in this species. Our results may also help explain why dark-morphs predominate in this study region, which experiences high rainfall and lower light-levels during the breeding-period. This study suggests that avian morphs may allocate/partition foraging activity by weather conditions/habitat, which maximise their concealment from prey.
Recent research suggests that genes coding for melanin based colouration may have pleiotropic properties, in particular conveying raised immune function. Thus adaptive function of polymorphism may be associated with parasite resistance. The black sparrowhawk Accipiter melanoleucus is a polymorphic raptor with two morphs. Over most of its range the light morph is commonest, however within the recently colonised Western Cape of South Africa the dark morph predominates. The species breeds in winter throughout South Africa, however unlike in the rest of the species' South African range, the Western Cape experiences a winter rainfall regime, where arthropod vectors which transmit haematozoan parasites may be more abundant. We hypothesise that the higher frequency of dark morph birds in this region may be due to their improved parasite resistance, which enables them to cope with higher parasite pressure. If so, we predict that dark morph black sparrowhawks would have lower parasite burdens than light morph birds. Within our population the prevalence of the two most common haematozoan parasites was high, with 72% of adults infected with Haemoproteus nisi and 59% of adults infected with Leucocytozoon toddi. We found no difference in prevalence for either parasite between adult morphs, or between chicks of different parental morphs. However, within adults infected with H. nisi, infection intensity was significantly higher in light morphs than dark morphs. This suggests that dark morphs have lower parasite loads than light morphs due to resistance rather than morph-specific habitat exploitation. Greater resistance to Haemoproteus parasites may therefore be one of the mechanisms through which dark morph black sparrowhawks have a selective advantage in this region and may explain why they are most common in our study area. In other regions, the cost to benefit ratio may be in favour of the light morph, where parasites are less abundant or virulent.
The object categorization is only scarcely studied using untrained wild ranging animals and relevant stimuli. We tested the importance of the spatial position of features salient for categorization of a predator using wild ranging birds (titmice) visiting a winter feeder. As a relevant stimulus we used a dummy of a raptor, the European sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus), placed at the feeding location. This dummy was designed to be dismantled into three parts and rearranged with the head in the correct position, in the middle or at the bottom of the dummy. When the birds had the option of visiting an alternative feeder with a dummy pigeon, they preferred this option to visiting the feeder with the dummy sparrowhawk with the head in any of the three positions. When the birds had the option of visiting an alternative feeder with an un-rearranged dummy sparrowhawk, they visited both feeders equally often, and very scarcely. This suggests that the titmice considered all of the sparrowhawk modifications as being dangerous, and equally dangerous as the un-rearranged sparrowhawk. The position of the head was not the most important cue for categorization. The presence of the key features was probably sufficient for categorization, and their mutual spatial position was of lower importance.
From an evolutionary perspective recruitment into the breeding population represents one of the most important life history stages and ultimately determines the effective population size. In order to contribute to the next generation, offspring must survive to sexual maturity, secure a territory and find a mate. In this study we explore factors influencing both offspring survival and their subsequent recruitment into the local breeding population in a long-lived urban raptor, the black sparrowhawk (Accipiter melanoleucus). Adult black sparrowhawks show discrete colour polymorphism (dark and light morphs) and in South Africa morphs are distributed clinally with the highest proportion of dark morphs (c.75%) present in our study population on the Cape Peninsula. Parental morph was associated with both survival and recruitment. For survival, parental morph combination was important - with young produced by pairs of contrasting morphs having higher survival rates than young fledged from like-pairs. The association between recruitment and morph was more complex; with an interaction between male morph and breeding time, whereby recruitment of offspring from dark morph fathers was more likely when fledging earlier in the season. The opposite relationship was found for light morph fathers, with their offspring more likely to be recruited if fledged later in the season. This interaction may be due to differential morph-specific hunting success of fathers (males contribute most food provisioning), linked to background matching and crypsis in different weather conditions. Dark morph males may hunt more successfully in rainier and cloudier conditions which occur more frequently earlier in the breeding season and light morph males may be more successful later on, when weather conditions become increasingly brighter and drier. Our results reveal a complex situation whereby the family morph combination influences survival, and the father morph specifically recruitment, revealing morph specific benefits dependent on the timing of breeding. These empirical data are amongst the first to support the idea that differential fitness consequence of morph combination may explain balanced polymorphism in a vertebrate population. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
Video filmed by a camera mounted on the head of a Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) was used to study how the raptor used visual guidance to pursue prey and land on perches. A combination of novel image analysis methods and numerical simulations of mathematical pursuit models was used to determine the goshawk’s pursuit strategy. The goshawk flew to intercept targets by fixing the prey at a constant visual angle, using classical pursuit for stationary prey, lures or perches, and usually using constant absolute target direction (CATD) for moving prey. Visual fixation was better maintained along the horizontal than vertical direction. In some cases, we observed oscillations in the visual fix on the prey, suggesting that the goshawk used finite-feedback steering. Video filmed from the ground gave similar results. In most cases, it showed goshawks intercepting prey using a trajectory consistent with CATD, then turning rapidly to attack by classical pursuit; in a few cases, it showed them using curving non-CATD trajectories. Analysis of the prey’s evasive tactics indicated that only sharp sideways turns caused the goshawk to lose visual fixation on the prey, supporting a sensory basis for the surprising frequency and effectiveness of this tactic found by previous studies. The dynamics of the prey’s looming image also suggested that the goshawk used a tau-based interception strategy. We interpret these results in the context of a concise review of pursuit-evasion in biology, and conjecture that some prey deimatic ‘startle’ displays may exploit tau-based interception.
Materials suitable for anatomical research of raptorial birds are rare. Bird-eating raptors show distinct inter-sexual differences in body size and parental roles. The large females catch larger prey and prepare small morsels to feed their young using their hooked beaks. Here, we investigated the architectural properties of different jaw muscles of the Japanese sparrowhawk (Accipiter gularis) and examined whether there is sexual dimorphism in their architectural design. The results showed that musculus depressor mandibulae, the opener of the lower jaw, was characterized by relatively long fascicle length, whereas musculus pterygoideus was characterized by its larger mass and physiological cross-sectional area (PCSA) in both sexes. Females have the potential capacity to produce rapid and strong bites by their significantly longer fascicle length of M. depressor mandibulae and larger mass and PCSA of M. pterygoideus. For body size-matched gender, jaw muscles of males had fibres of relatively longer length than females, enabling greater velocity and excursion. Architectural characteristics of jaw muscles, together with the absolute dimorphism (the fascicle length of M. depressor mandibulae, the muscle mass and PCSA of M. pterygoideus) and relative dimorphism in the muscle mass of M. pterygoideus, reflect dietary difference and asymmetric parental roles between the sexes.
Information on trace element pollution in the terrestrial environment and its biota is limited compared to the marine environment. In the present study, we collected body feathers and blood of 37 Northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) nestlings from Tromsø (northern Norway), Trondheim (central Norway), and Murcia (southeastern Spain) to study regional exposure, hypothesizing the potential health risks of metals and other trace elements. Blood and body feathers were analyzed by a high resolution inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer (HR-ICP-MS) for aluminum (Al), nickel (Ni), copper (Cu), zinc (Zn), arsenic (As), selenium (Se), cadmium (Cd), mercury (Hg) and lead (Pb). The influence of regional differences, urbanization and agricultural land usage in proximity to the nesting Northern goshawks was investigated using particular spatial analysis techniques. Most trace elements were detected below literature blood toxicity thresholds, except for elevated concentrations (mean ± SD µgml(-1) ww) found for Zn (5.4 ± 1.5), Cd (0.00023 ± 0.0002), and Hg (0.021 ± 0.01). Corresponding mean concentrations in feathers (mean ± SD µgg(-1) dw) were 82.0 ± 12.4, 0.0018 ± 0.002, and 0.26 ± 0.2 for Zn, Cd and Hg respectively. Multiple linear regressions indicated region was a significant factor influencing Al, Zn, Se and Hg feather concentrations. Blood Cd and Hg concentrations were significantly influenced by agricultural land cover. Urbanization did not have a significant impact on trace element concentrations in either blood or feathers. Overall metal and trace element levels do not indicate a high risk for toxic effects in the nestlings. Levels of Cd in Tromsø and Hg in Trondheim were however above sub-lethal toxic threshold levels. For holistic risk assessment purposes it is important that the concentrations found in the nestlings of this study indicate that terrestrial raptors are exposed to various trace elements.