Optimal foraging and territorial defence in the Great Tit (Parus major)
We describe an experiment designed to investigate the trade-off between foraging and territorial vigilance in the Great Tit. Captive territorial male Great Tits were observed while foraging in a large indoor aviary. They obtained food from two operant ‘patches’ in which the supply of food was gradually depleted during a visit. We predicted that during control sessions the birds would switch between patches in such a way as to maximise their overall feeding rate. In experimental sessions, we introduced briefly a rival male as an ‘intruder’ at the start of the test. The foraging male could see the rival only when travelling between patches and not while feeding within patches. We predicted that during experimental sessions birds would switch between patches more often than in control tests, sacrificing food intake for territorial vigilance. Three of the four males tested behaved in approximately the predicted manner. We discuss the use of an inverse optimality argument to provide a calibration of feeding against the benefit resulting from territorial vigilance.
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