In an effort to relate social interactions to feeding-habitat use, 6 spp. of wading birds were observed near a major colony site in coastal North Carolina [USA]. Three spatial scales of habitat use were considered: the general orientation to and from the colony the habitat patch and the microhabitat. Departure-arrival directions of great egrets (Casmerodius albus), snowy egrets (Egretta thula), cattle egrets (Bubulcus ibis), little blue herons (E. caerulea), tricolored herons (E. tricolor) and glossy ibises (Plegadis falcinellus) were monitored at the colony site to document coarse patterns of feeding-habitat use. Observations made at 5 different wetland sites to monitor between-habitat and within-habitat patterns for the 5 aquatic-feeding species. A broad and variable use of feeding habitat over time was indicated. 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 habitat patch level, only 1 of 5 wetland sites was relatively consistent in attracting feeding birds and its use increased from May-June. Few groups were seen at 4 of the 5 sites. At the 1 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: the probing nonvisually feeding ibises make prey more available to the followers. Local enhancement appeared to play a more important role than did any information-sharing at the colony.
Additional publication details
Feeding habitats of nesting wading birds: Spatial use and social influences