Relative roles of grey squirrels, supplementary feeding, and habitat in shaping urban bird assemblages

Colin Bonnington, Kevin J. Gaston, Karl L. Evans

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7 Citations (Scopus)


Non-native species are frequently considered to influence urban assemblages. The grey squirrel Sciurus carolinensis is one such species that is widespread in the UK and is starting to spread across Europe; it predates birds' nests and can compete with birds for supplementary food. Using distance sampling across the urbanisation intensity gradient in Sheffield (UK) we test whether urban grey squirrels influence avian species richness and density through nest predation and competition for supplementary food sources. We also assess how urban bird assemblages respond to supplementary feeding. We find that grey squirrels slightly reduced the abundance of breeding bird species most sensitive to squirrel nest predation by reducing the beneficial impact of woodland cover. There was no evidence that grey squirrel presence altered relationships between supplementary feeding and avian assemblage structure. This may be because, somewhat surprisingly, supplementary feeding was not associated with the richness or density of wintering bird assemblages. These associations were positive during the summer, supporting advocacy to feed birds during the breeding season and not just winter, but explanatory capacity was limited. The amount of green space and its quality, assessed as canopy cover, had a stronger influence on avian species richness and population size than the presence of grey squirrels and supplementary feeding stations. Urban bird populations are thus more likely to benefit from investment in improving the availability of high quality habitats than controlling squirrel populations or increased investment in supplementary feeding.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere109397
Number of pages7
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 22 Oct 2014
Externally publishedYes

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