Feeding habitats of nesting wading birds: Spatial use and social influences

The Auk




In an effort to relate social interactions to feeding-habitat use, I observed six species of wading birds near a major colony site in coastal North Carolina. Three spatial scales of habitat use were considered: the general orientation to and from the colony (coarsest level), the habitat "patch," and (at the finest level) the microhabitat. Departure-arrival directions of Great Egrets (Casmerodius albus), Snowy Egrets (Egretta thula), Cattle Egrets (Bubulcus ibis), Little Blue Herons (Egretta caerulea), Tricolored Herons (Egretta tricolor), and Glossy Ibises (Plegadis falcinellus) were monitored at the colony site to document coarse patterns of feeding-habitat use. Added to these data were observations made at five different wetland sites to monitor between-habitat and within-habitat patterns for the five aquatic-feeding species. The results indicated a broad and variable use of feeding habitat over time. At the coarsest scale (i.e. orientation at the colony), diffuse patterns, influenced little by either inter- or intraspecific social interaction, were found for all species. At the next level (habitat "patch"), only one of five wetland sites was relatively consistent in attracting feeding birds, and its use increased from May to June. Few groups were seen at four of the five sites. At the one "attractive" site, the within-habitat patterns again were spatially variable over time, except for those of the abundant Snowy Egret, whose microhabitat preference was fairly consistent. Glossy Ibises and Snowy Egrets frequently formed mixed-species groups, Little Blue Herons were the least social, and Great Egrets and Tricolored Herons generally occurred in groups of less than 10 birds but rarely in groups larger than 30. The close association between Snowy Egrets and Glossy Ibises appeared to be based on a "beater-follower" relationship, wherein the probing, nonvisually feeding ibises make prey more available to the followers. In the study area, local enhancement appeared to play a more important role than did any "information-sharing" at the colony.

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Journal Article
Feeding habitats of nesting wading birds: Spatial use and social influences
Series title:
The Auk
Year Published:
American Ornithological Society
Contributing office(s):
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
11 p.
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