Current Ornithology Volume 15, 1999, pp 189-259

Informed Dispersal

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Abstract

The quality of a bird’s breeding site is a primary determinant of its success or failure to reproduce there. We expect birds to devote considerable effort to acquiring accurate information about potential locations before finally selecting a breeding site (e.g., Wiens, 1976; Lack, 1971; Howard, 1920). The great mobility of birds strengthens this expectation, which is also reinforced by the accumulating evidence of avian cognitive abilities (e.g., Cook et al., 1997; Cook, 1993). In this chapter we review theoretical considerations and empirical evidence that birds gather advance information about possible breeding sites within a general area before settling to breed within that area. This gathering process, which we term prospecting, has received little systematic attention despite its potential interest and its obvious importance for individual fitness, population dynamics, and distribution.