We studied foraging ecology of Prothonotary Warblers (Protonotaria citrea) over four breeding seasons to determine if this species exhibited sex-specific or temporal variation in foraging behavior. Significant differences between sexes during the prenestling period were found for foraging height and substrate height (foraging method, plant species/substrate, perch diameter, horizontal location from trunk, and prey location were not significantly different). During the nestling period, this divergence between sexes was evident for foraging height, substrate height, substrate / tree species, and prey location. Additionally, male warblers significantly altered their behavior for all seven foraging variables between the two periods, whereas females exhibited changes similar to those of males for five of the foraging variables. This parallel shift suggests a strong behavioral response by both sexes to proximate factors (such as vegetation structure, and prey abundance and distribution) that varied throughout the breeding season. Sex-specific foraging behavior during the prenestling period was best explained by differences in reproductive responsibilities rather than by the theory of intersexual competition for limited resources. During the nestling period, neither hypothesis by itself explained foraging divergences adequately. However, when integrated with the temporal responses of the warblers to changes in prey availability, reproductive responsibilities seemed to be of primary importance in explaining intersexual niche partitioning during the nestling period. We emphasize the importance of considering both intersexual and intraseasonal variation when quantifying a species' foraging ecology.
Additional publication details
Intersexual and temporal variation in foraging ecology of prothonotary warblers during the breeding season