Urbanisation and nest building in birds: a review of threats and opportunities

Silas Reynolds, Juan Diego Ibáñez‑Álamo, Petra Sumasgutner, Mark Mainwaring

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24 Citations (Scopus)
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The world is urbanising rapidly, and it is predicted that by 2050, 66% of the global human population will be living in urban areas. Urbanisation is characterised by land-use changes such as increased residential housing, business development and transport infrastructure, resulting in habitat loss and fragmentation. Over the past two decades, interest has grown in how urbanisation influences fundamental aspects of avian biology such as life-history strategies, survival, breeding performance, behaviour and individual health. Here, we review current knowledge on how urbanisation influences the nesting biology of birds, which determines important fitness-associated processes such as nest predation and community assembly. We identify three major research areas: (i) nest sites of birds in urban areas, (ii) the composition of their nests, and (iii) how these aspects of their nesting biology influence their persistence (and therefore conservation efforts) in urban areas. We show that birds inhabiting urban areas nest in a wide variety of locations, some beneficial through exploitation of otherwise relatively empty avian ecological niches, but others detrimental when birds breed in ecological traps. We describe urban-associated changes in nesting materials such as plastic and cigarette butts, and discuss several functional hypotheses that propose the adaptive value and potential costs of this new nesting strategy. Urban areas provide a relatively new habitat in which to conserve birds, and we show that nestboxes and other artificial nest sites can be used successfully to conserve some, but not all, bird species. Finally, we identify those subject areas that warrant further research attention in the hope of advancing our understanding of the nesting biology of birds in urban areas.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)841-860
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Ornithology
Early online date11 Apr 2019
Publication statusPublished - 11 Apr 2019

Bibliographical note

Cite this as: James Reynolds, S., Ibáñez-Álamo, J.D., Sumasgutner, P. et al. J Ornithol (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10336-019-01657-8


  • Birds
  • Community
  • Conservation
  • Ecological trap
  • Nest design and site selection
  • Pollution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology


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