Effect of Plastic on Predation of Bird Nests

Level of Education of Students Involved


Faculty Sponsor

Laurie Eberhardt


Arts and Sciences



Presentation Type

Poster Presentation

Symposium Date

Spring 4-27-2023


As humans continue to produce more plastic, more and more plastic and other anthropogenic material is being introduced to the environment. Among other problems, plastic and anthropogenic materials in nests can harm birds through entanglement, ingestion, a decrease in parasites, and possibly higher visibility to predators. The goal of this research is to study the effect of plastic may have on predation risk. In the fall, natural robin and cardinal nests were acquired, and artificial nests were created out of grape vines, straw, pine needles and mud. Half of the nests were placed in an environment without any plastic, and three strips of white polyethylene plastic were added to the other half. Additionally, artificial eggs were created out of non-toxic modeling clay, and three were included with each nest. The nests were placed in low trees and shrubs on campus and checked two to three times a day. The time until predation and type of predator was recorded. Overall, 74% of the nests were attacked with more bird predation than mammal predation. We found that the time until predation was significantly longer for nests with plastic (n=11, t=2.3, p<.05). This experiment took place in the fall, and we are now repeating it during the spring breeding season using old nests collected during the winter. An increase to time till predator attack on nests containing plastic suggest birds may incorporate white polyethylene in their nests as a predator deterrent.

Biographical Information about Author(s)

Sophia Panfil is a senior Biology major minoring in neuroscience, chemistry and dance. She has previously been involved in undergraduate neurobiology research. After graduation, she hopes to attend graduate school to further her education.

Elissa Torgerson is in her third year at Valparaiso University and is from Streamwood, Illinois. She is completing a research-intensive biology major with a chemistry minor and is a member of Christ College. She enjoys studying ecology, theology, and German.

Gabrielle is a sophomore from Valparaiso, IN double majoring in Biology and Environmental Science, with a minor in Spanish. As well as being a part of Christ College, she is active on campus in the University's Chorale, Earthtones, the Chapel of the Resurrection, is the Swim Club Vice President, and works as the Community Sustainability Intern for the Office of Sustainability. She hopes to pursue a career in environmental conservation and/or botany.

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