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Study: Urban stresses cause birds to abandon nests, eggs and all

A bird of prey can get so stressed out by city noise that it might abandon its nest—eggs and all, according to a new study by researchers at Boise State University. The study suggests human disturbances affect the American kestrel more than previously thought.

Busy roads have a certain appeal for birds of prey like the kestrel. The combination of power poles and open space makes highways prime real estate for spotting rodents.

But the researchers say these areas turn out to be an “ecological trap.” When it comes time to nest, blood tests show American kestrels that choose high-traffic areas develop heightened levels of a stress hormone. And that makes them leave their nests.

“And so you would find five cold eggs, and no adults would come back to that nest,” said biologist Julie Heath, who co-authored the new study published in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

Heath says the kestrel builds its nest inside a cavity and relies on its hearing.

“We think that in high-noise areas, it's masking the cues they would normally use to evaluate what's going on outside,” she said.

Female birds nesting near busy places like Interstate 84 in southern Idaho were found to be 10 times more likely to abandon their nest.

Heath says the study indicates that a bird's presence in an area doesn't necessarily mean that area is good habitat.

Inland Northwest Correspondent Jessica Robinson reports from the Northwest News Network's bureau in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. From the politics of wolves to mining regulation to small town gay rights movements, Jessica covers the economic, demographic and environmental trends that are shaping places east of the Cascades.