Ectoparasite infestation of nests and nestlings can induce physiological stress, anemia, higher risk of infection, and, in extreme cases, premature fledging and mortality for many avian species. Utilizing green nesting material (GNM) containing volatile, secondary metabolites to reduce ectoparasitism is a behavioral adaptation observed in some birds. Golden Eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) in southwestern Idaho have been observed to decorate their nests with green plant material. We proposed that Golden Eagles select plant species with secondary metabolites from their territories to combat ectoparasite infestation of nests, particularly by Mexican Chicken Bugs (Haematosiphon indorous). To evaluate this, we identified GNM to species and estimated species-specific nest coverage, analyzed the concentration of polyphenolics and terpenes in GNM samples, and surveyed plant composition within territories to determine plant availability. This is the first project studying the ecology of Golden Eagles, GNM selection, and ectoparasitism.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/jennifer_forbey/56/