Foraging behavior often reflects food availability in predictable ways. For example, in habitats where food availability is high, predators should attack prey more often and move more slowly than in habitats where food availability is low. To assess relative food availability and habitat quality, I studied the foraging behavior of breeding Prothonotary Warblers (Protonotaria citrea) in two forest habitat types, cypress-gum swamp forest and coastal-plain levee forest. I quantified foraging behavior with focal animal sampling and continuous recording during foraging bouts. I measured two aspects of foraging behavior: 1) prey attack rate (attacks per minute), using four attack maneuvers (glean, sally, hover, strike), and 2) foraging speed (movements per minute), using three types of movement (hop, short flight [???1 m], long flight [>1 m]). Warblers attacked prey more often in cypress-gum swamp forest than in coastal-plain levee forest. Foraging speed, however, was not different between habitats. I also measured foraging effort (% time spent foraging) and relative frequency of attack maneuvers employed in each habitat; neither of these variables was influenced by forest type. I conclude that Prothonotary Warblers encounter more prey when foraging in cypress-gum swamps than in coastal-plain levee forest, and that greater food availability results in higher density and greater reproductive success for birds breeding in cypress-gum swamp.
Additional publication details
Habitat-specific foraging of prothonotary warblers: Deducing habitat quality