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Hindawi International Journal of Zoology Volume 2021, Article ID 7742894, 8 pages https://doi.org/10.1155/2021/7742894 Research Article Breeding Performances of the European Blackbird (Turdus merula) in Morocco: Habitat Selection, Breeding Phenology, and Breeding Success 1 1 1 1 Abderahim El Hassani , Ismail Mansouri , Wafae Squalli , Abdelbari El Agy , 1 1 2 3 Amine Assouguem , Kenza Bouayad, Abdellah Markou, Mohamed Mounir , 4 5 1 Hamid Achiban, Mohamed Dakki , and Lahsen El Ghadraoui Laboratory of Functional Ecology and Genie of Environment, Faculty of Sciences and Technology, USMBA, Fez, Morocco Laboratory of Bio-Geosciences and Materials Engineering, Hassan II University, Casablanca BP 50069, Morocco Laboratory of Biotechnology and Valorisation of Phytog´en´etics Resources, Faculty of Sciences and Technics, Sultan Moulay Sliman University, Beni Mellal, Morocco Laboratory of Geo-environmental, Analysis Planing-Sustainable Development, Faculty of Sciences Dhar El Mahraz, USMBA, Fez, Morocco Laboratory of Geo-biodiversity and Natural Heritage, Scientiﬁc Institute, Mohammed V University, Av. Ibn Battota, Rabat 10 BP 703, Morocco Correspondence should be addressed to Ismail Mansouri; firstname.lastname@example.org Received 14 May 2021; Accepted 10 July 2021; Published 19 July 2021 Academic Editor: Marco Cucco Copyright © 2021 Abderahim El Hassani et al. &is is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. &e European Blackbird (Turdus merula) is a widespread species. In Morocco, available knowledge on this species is limited to a few descriptive pieces of information with no detailed data provided. With climate change and the intensiﬁcation of agricultural activities, the study of the breeding performances of this species is indispensable for management purposes. &is study investigates breeding biology, nesting habitats, breeding chronology, and reproductive success of the European Blackbird in both apple orchards and surrounding woody vegetation at Ait Ayach (Morocco) between March and August 2016. We monitored weekly nest status, nesting sites, breeding dates, and failure factors. Results showed that the European Blackbird nests mainly in apple orchards, on Golden Delicious and Starkrimson Delicious trees. Nest height above the ground was 214.15±0.09cm. Blackbird nests were cup-shaped with medium size dimensions and built from twigs, including dry leaves, stems, and roots walled by the mud. Breeding activities started ﬁrstly by nest construction during the last week of April, secondly by egg laying during the ﬁrst week of May, and thirdly by hatching during the second week of May. Among the 74 surveyed nests, 100% were active during the nesting phase and 88.38% of eggs have succeeded during the incubation phase. In total, 69.03% of chicks have been emancipated. In short, 15.9% of clutches were attacked by predators, 14.35% of clutches were failed due to nest desertion, and 8.75% of chicks were dead. Our study provides the ﬁrst and only detailed data on reproductive parameters of the European Blackbird in Moroccan ecosystems. Data collected from this study provide valuable information for long-term monitoring of the Moroccan Blackbird population. Additionally, our data oﬀer a possibility of large-scale comparative studies of the reproductive ecology of the Blackbird species. studies based on monitoring of nests and the nestlings in 1. Introduction avian species [1, 2]. Data resulted from these studies are Studies on breeding bioecology diﬀer from simple obser- crucial for the development of avian life-history theory and vations of some breeding aspect inventories to detailed the employment of adequate conservation management for 2 International Journal of Zoology these species and their environments . Equally, current 2.2. Data Collection. We searched for nests and breeding avian research studies have shown distinctive life-history pairs from early March to late August 2016, using parental patterns and breeding tactics, permitting theories about the behavioral cues and Common Birds Census (CBC) meth- evolution of breeding bioecology and increasing the eﬃ- odology . Inside apple orchards, breeding parameters ciency of conservation policies . (nests or breeding couples) were investigated line by line Although recent years have witnessed a massive advance based on the tree-lines of apple orchards [21, 22] (Figure 2). in quantity and quality of studies analyzing the breeding In hedgerow woodlands, nests were explored with a walked biology of some common and rare bird species, mainly in the transect of a few km, depending on the surface of the European and North American continents , a large monitored orchard. Visits were done weekly from 06.00 to percentage of the avifauna species remains poorly unknown 18.00 hours. in terms of reproductive biology and breeding success [6, 7], To describe nesting sites and nest placement, we mainly in Africa, despite the importance of this continents recorded nests inside orchards, in the periphery of orchards, for resident and migratory birds [7, 8]. nesting-tree type, nesting-tree height, nest height above the &e European Blackbird Turdus merula is a common ground, and nest distance to central trunk (Figure 2). Nest breeding bird all over Europe, North Africa, Asia, and dimensions, including nest big diameter, small diameter, Australia [9–14]. Generally, the European Blackbird is and cup depth, were also measured. In parallel, breeding categorized as one of the most widespread passerines in the chronology counting nesting (ﬁrst nest/season), laying (ﬁrst Western Palearctic zone . However, the Blackbird selects eggs/season), and hatching (ﬁrst chicks/season) dates were breeding habitats in farmlands, woodlands, and suburban documented. Finally, nest status (three categories: new- environments [11, 12, 14, 16]. empty, eggs, or chicks) and failure factors (four categories: In North Africa, T. merula is mainly reported in Algeria, desertion, predation, destruction, or death of clutch) were Tunisia, and Morocco [12, 14]. In Algeria and Tunisia, the noted. All measurements were realized during the morning European Blackbird is documented in urban zones, orchards, where birds were out to search for food. and forests [12, 14]. On the contrary, in Morocco, data on T. merula are rare and fragmented . &e species is only 2.3. Statistics. Breeding success rates were evaluated by the reported as breeders in few habitats without any information calculation of success nests (active nests/built nests), hatched on breeding biology or reproductive success . However, eggs (hatched eggs/laid eggs), and survived chicks (chicks with the recent intensiﬁcation of farming activities and leaving their nests/ﬂedged chicks). Clutch size was calculated changes in climatic conditions , the understanding of as the number of laid eggs/total active nests. Preferences breeding performances of such species is urgently required. toward nesting trees were calculated by percentage (number In this study, we used ﬁeld investigations to examine the of nest per supporting tree/all nests). Breeding dates were breeding biology of the European Blackbird in Moroccan accumulated per week due to the lack of precision (some- ecosystems. We investigated the patterns of breeding biol- times we found built nests, laid eggs, or ﬂedged chicks after ogy, breeding chronology, nesting sites, and placement in- their initiations). side farmlands and woodlands. Equally, we studied breeding We checked for normality and homogeneity of variance success and the most relevant failing factors. All these for all variables by the Kolmogorov–Smirnov test. Corre- studied features are proposed to ﬁll the gap of lacking data lations among nest dimensions were tested with the Pearson about this common bird in Morocco and North Africa. In correlation coeﬃcient. &e diﬀerence in breeding success addition, Morocco is considered as a migratory route, rates among breeding phases (nesting, laying, and hatching) stopover, and staging area for millions of migratory birds was tested by the ANOVA one-way test, considering the 16 that travel between Europe and Africa [6, 20]; therefore, the breeding orchards. Relationships between nest height and understanding of any biological aspects in Morocco will supporting tree height (n �74 nests) and between nesting enhance and facilitate the adoption of regional or local dates, laying, and hatching chronology were assessed using conservation measures. Generalized Linear Models (GLMs). Firstly, the nest height was considered as the dependent variable and the supporting 2. Materials and Methods tree as predicting variable. Secondly, the nesting dates were deﬁned as governing variables, while laying and hatching as 2.1. Study Area. Fieldwork was conducted in the Ait Ayach dependent variables. Data were analyzed in STAT- rural area, situated at Midelt Province, at the foot of Ayachi GRAPHICS Centurion software, version XVI. I, and results Mountain. Geographically, the study zone (Figure 1) was at a were given as sample size and mean±SD. high altitude ranging between 1300 and 1600m upon sea level (Mansouri et al.). &e study zone is characterized by an 3. Results arid cold climate, and the precipitation regime is marked by variable and low rain. &e annual average precipitations and 3.1. Selection of Nesting Site and Placement. &e European temperature are about 29 C and 89mm successively. Blackbird nests were built in farmlands and woodlands. Two types of habitats were studied: 16 apple orchards 95.51% of nests were recorded in apple orchards (49.25% on (farmlands) with an estimated surface of 3.5ha, and Starkrimson Delicious and 46.26% on Golden Delicious) woodlands, including riparian habitats and forest planta- and 4.49% in hedgerow woodlands (2.99% on wild rose and tions in form of hedgerows surrounding apple orchards. 1.49% on poplar). International Journal of Zoology 3 5°20′0″W 5°10′0″W 5°0′0″W 4°50′0″W 4°40′0″W 4°30′0″W 32°50′0″N 32°50′0″N Ayt ayach valley Dominant habitats River 32°40′0″N 32°40′0″N Floodplain Hassan II dam Altitude Value 906 – 1,314 1,315 – 1,529 1,530 – 1,708 32°30′0″N 32°30′0″N 1,709 – 1,910 1,911 – 2,154 2,155 – 2,464 2,465 – 2,894 2,895 – 3,714 City 5°20′0″W 5°10′0″W 5°0′0″W 4°50′0″W 4°40′0″W 4°30′0″W Breeding orchards Coordinate system: GCS WGS 1984 Datum: WGS 1984 Units: degree Figure 1: Location of the studied habitats at Ait Ayach zone during 2016 season. Nest placement Hedgerow Apple tree Apples Periphery Golden NTH delicious NDLC Central apple trees Hedgerow Starkrimson NHG delicious NDCT Nest morphology Nesting parameters NTH: nesting-tree height, NHG: nest height above the ground, NDLC: lower canopy distance, NDCT: distance of nest to tree center, NBD: nest big diameter, NSD: nest small diameter, NDP: nest cup depth. Figure 2: Nesting sites, placement, and morphology of the Blackbird in the Ait Ayach zone. 4 International Journal of Zoology On the other hand, inside apple orchards, nests were information on the nesting sites, breeding chronology, and placed mainly in the center (67.56% of nests) compared to breeding success rates of this widely distributed species. We the marginal trees (32.43% of nests). acquired valuable and original data describing the breeding Nest height above the ground was 214.15±0.09cm, habitat use and the reproductive performance of the 95.4±0.09cm far from the tree center trunk, and the dis- Common Blackbird. &ese data are the ﬁrst and only pro- tance to the lower canopy was 95.4±0.09cm. Nest height vided results associated with the Common Blackbird in was related to the height of the supporting tree (Figure 3). Morocco and the entire Northwest African area, which is of great interest for the application of potential monitoring of the widespread Moroccan Blackbird population. 3.2. Nest Morphology. Blackbird nests are built from twigs of To date, it is known that the Common Blackbird is a diﬀerent natures, including dry leaves, stems, and roots, and resident-breeding bird in Morocco and North Africa since it surrounding a circular cup creased with small dry grass. &e was recorded in agroecosystems and woodlands. Equally, in internal cup is walled by the mud that isolates clutches from our piloting study, nests of Turdus merula were found inside plant materials. Generally, nests were cup-shaped, with an apple orchards and surrounding woodlands. However, the external diameter of 8.30±0.29cm (n �74 nests), an internal higher percentages of nests were located inside the orchards diameter of 7.03±0.29cm, and a cup depth of in comparison with surrounding woody vegetation. Gen- 5.82±0.35cm. Both diameters were positively correlated erally, the nesting preference toward apple orchards, mainly (Table 1). on Golden Delicious and Starkrimson Delicious, is sug- gested to be governed by the abundance of these farmlands in the area. Similar results were mentioned by Mansouri 3.3. Breeding Chronology. &e breeding chronology of the et al. in turtle doves in the same area, where nests were built European Blackbird in apple orchards, including nesting, mainly on the abundant apple trees. laying, and hatching dates, at Oukhaja is summarized in Blackbirds placed their nests on an important height to Figure 4. After the formation of breeding pairs, initiation of protect their clutches and nestlings [12, 16, 23]. However, nest construction began during the last week of April, fol- nest height was controlled by the height of supporting trees lowed by laying of ﬁrst eggs on the ﬁrst week of May. &e as mentioned by many authors . On the other hand, ﬁrst chicks were documented on the second week of May. Blackbird nests were cup-shaped with a medium size and Laying and hatching dates were controlled by dates of nest built from interwoven twigs, leaves and roots, dry grass, and construction (Figure 5 and Table 2). mud . On the other hand, the nesting time dated from the last In our study, the Blackbird started nesting during the last week of April to the third week of June. &e laying period week of April at Ait Ayach and egg laying during the ﬁrst was from the ﬁrst week of May to the last week of June. &e week of May, while in Algeria (North Africa) and Germany hatching period was between the second week of May and (Europe), breeding dates, including nesting and laying, were the last week of June. Finally, the breeding period (ﬁrst nest earlier during March and the beginning of April [14, 26]. In to the last chicks) was between April and August. Australia, breeding chronology started later in August . Consequently, the breeding chronology varies depending on 3.4. Breeding Success. All monitored nests were active after the geographical zone. On the other hand, at Ait Ayach, laying and hatching dates were related to nest construction construction (Table 3). Among the 155 documented eggs, 88.38% were hatched in apple orchards. &e ﬂedging success chronology, which is logical since the nest is the support of eggs and nestlings . rate was 78.10%. In total, 69.03% of chicks have been emancipated (survived chicks/laid eggs). However, success &e reproductive success rate of the Blackbird at Ait Ayach was high during all breeding phases counting nesting, rates were higher during nesting and laying phases (n �15, F �699.14, Df �2, P<0.001). incubation, and rearing. Only small portions of clutches, Clutches were menaced by a variety of threats. In broods, and ﬂedging were failed mainly due to predation summary, 15.9% of clutches were unsuccessful due to attacks by reptiles such as horseshoe snake Hemorrhois predators (8.10% of nests, 8.75% of eggs, and 8.02% of hippocrepis and Montpellier snake Malpolon mon- spessulanus, and desertion of clutches due to human dis- chicks), and 14.35% of clutches were failed due to nest desertion caused by anthropological disturbance (2.70% of turbance through pulverization of pesticides, which was applied two times per month. Similar results were men- nests, 1.93% of eggs, and 5.10% of chicks). Equally, 8.75% of chicks were dead, and 1.93% of unhatched eggs (Figure 6). tioned in orange orchards in Algeria, where the causes of breeding failure were predation attacks by the lizards and snakes, nest deserted before hatching, nestling died, and 4. Discussion brood desertion. In our case, the authors in [6, 8] have To our knowledge, this is the ﬁrst research of the breeding mentioned the abundance of reptiles and other predators, as biology of the Common Blackbird Turdus merula in Mo- well as the intensiﬁcation of farming practices that cause loss rocco. Our focal objective was to provide comprehensive of breeding attempts of avian species inside apple orchards. International Journal of Zoology 5 Sum of Mean Source Df F-ratio P-value squares square 2.5 Model 1.66056 1 1.66056 12.18 0.0014 1.5 Residual 4.36291 32 0.136341 Total 0.5 6.02347 33 (corr.) 1.7 2.7 3.7 4.7 5.7 6.7 NT (a) (b) Figure 3: Linear model to describe the relationship between nest height above the ground (NH) and height of the supporting tree (NT). Table 1: Correlations among nest dimensions of the Blackbird. Internal diameter External diameter Cup depth Internal diameter 0.8861 −0.1006 P value <0.0001 0.5946 External diameter 0.8861 0.0493 P value <0.0001 0.7941 Cup depth −0.1006 0.0493 P value 0.5946 0.7941 Dates (10 days) Nesting Laying Hatching Figure 4: Breeding chronology of the Common Blackbird at the Ait Ayach zone. NH Breeding activities April-02 April-03 May-01 May-02 May-03 June-01 June-02 June-03 July-01 July-02 July-03 August-01 August-02 August-03 6 International Journal of Zoology 15 15 12 12 9 9 6 6 3 3 0 0 0 10 20 30 40 0 4 8 12 16 20 Laying Hatching (a) (b) Figure 5: Relationship between nesting dates, laying, and hatching initiation. Table 2: General linear statistical model relating nesting, laying, and hatching dates. Source Sum of squares Df Mean square F-ratio P value Model (laying) 304.488 1 304.488 28.03 0.0002 Residual 130.369 12 10.8641 Total (corr.) 434.857 13 Model (hatching) 144.86 1 144.86 5.99 0.0307 Residual 289.997 12 24.1664 Total (corr.) 434.857 13 Table 3: Breeding success and failure factor between breeding phases of the Blackbird at Ait Ayach. Ait Ayach Phase Parameter Number % Total 74 100 Active 74 100 Nests Predated 6 8.1 Deserted 2 2.7 Destructed 0 0 Total 155 100 Succeeded 137 88.38 Predated 12 8.75 Eggs Deserted 3 1.93 Destructed 0 0 Unhatched 3 1.93 Total 137 100 Succeeded 107 78.10 Chicks Predated 11 8.02 Died 12 8.75 Deserted 7 5.10 Nesting Nesting International Journal of Zoology 7 (a) (b) (c) (d) (e) Nest status (a) new nest, (b) active nest, three laid eggs, (c) hatching of two eggs and unhatched one, (d) two nestlings before emancipation, (e) disturbed nest and dead chicks. 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Published: Jul 19, 2021
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