Researchers May Use ‘Chemical Camouflage’ to Protect Endangered Ground-Nesting Birds

by Lauren Boisvert
(Photo by Brais Seara/Getty Images)

Researchers have possibly found a way to protect vulnerable and endangered ground-nesting birds. A study by researchers at the University of Turku in Finland showed that red foxes were much more easily deterred from eating birds’ eggs than raccoon dogs, which is an invasive species in Finland. The study used artificial bird nests to test two methods of deterring predators.

These methods are non-lethal, and could possibly work alongside hunting to prevent predation and species loss. Hunting can’t always be carried out at all times, such as during the birds’ nesting season. Additionally, there are areas that lack apex predators, so the red fox and raccoon dog populations balloon out of control. These species then cause a decline in native and endangered bird species.

An international research team conducted two tests in southern Finland of non-lethal attempts at deterring predators from ground nests. First, researchers spread waterfowl odor in wetland areas with artificial nests. The chemical camouflage has been tested in Australia and New Zealand as well. It serves as a test to see if large amounts of prey odor in an area will prevent predators from finding the fake nests.

The second test involved food aversion. Researchers used eggs containing a substance that caused nausea for the predators if ingested and placed them around wetland areas. The goal was to condition the predators that eggs equal bad. Essentially, they would associate eating the eggs with subsequent nausea.

Results of the Chemical Camouflage and Food Aversion Tests Used to Protect Endangered Birds

Researchers found that chemical camouflage deterred more red foxes than raccoon dogs. Similarly, red foxes responded better to food aversion than raccoon dogs did. “Red foxes might rely more on their sense of smell to find bird nests, while the raccoon dog might find the nests by happenstance when they move in the area,” said Senior Researcher Vesa Selonen from the University of Turku.

According to the study, the results of the food aversion test were similar to the chemical camouflage test. But, the results were also less clear for the food aversion test.

“Nevertheless,” said Professor of Ecology Toni Laaksonen, “our results are interesting as they indicate that these methods could reduce the nest predation of vulnerable and endangered waterfowl species. Next, it is necessary to study whether the results we observed with the artificial nests can also lead to the preservation of real bird nests and through it to a larger number of young birds.”

The University of Turku initially published the study in Biological Conservation, and it definitely features some important data. It’s crucial that we take care of our vulnerable and endangered species. By developing non-lethal methods of deterring predation in addition to hunting, we can monitor and manage predator populations as well.