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Carrying food items to cover for consumption: the behavior of ten bird species feeding under the risk of predation

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In earlier work (Lima et al. 1985; Lima 1985), we found that gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) and black-capped chickadees (Parus atricapillus) when exploiting a patch of food in the open often carried individual food items to protective cover for consumption. Their tendency to carry (i) decreased as distance of the patch from cover increased, and (ii) increased as size of the available food items increased. A simple model indicated that this behavior was consistent with a trade-off between efficient foraging and predation risk. Maximal feeding efficiency was achieved by always eating at the patch, whereas minimal time exposure to predators was achieved by carrying all items to cover for consumption. Because predation-riskrelated trade-offs are likely to be of importance in the determination of feeding behavior, we surveyed the behavior of 10 bird species feeding under similar conditions to assess both the generality of the above results and the adequacy of some simple assumptions concerning the assessment and perception of predation risk.

We observed considerable interspecific variability in behavior. Of the 10 species studied, 4 behaved in a manner similar to the squirrels and chickadees. Five other species showed an increased tendency to carry with larger items but no clear tendency to decrease carrying from longer distances. The one remaining species exhibited neither behavioral trend.

The model that predicted squirrel and chickadee behavior failed to account for all observed behavior. The behavior of all species, however, was influenced by predation risk, and the discrepancy between theory and observation most likely reflects shortcomings of the model. These discrepancies indicate that other factors, in addition to exposure time, may be of significance in the perception of predation risk by several (or all) of the species studied. Of particular importance may be a distance-dependent probability of escaping attack. Other results indicate that predation risk may influence handling times via aspects of the digestive process.

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Correspondence to T. J. Valone.

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Valone, T.J., Lima, S.L. Carrying food items to cover for consumption: the behavior of ten bird species feeding under the risk of predation. Oecologia 71, 286–294 (1987).

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Key words

  • Predation risk
  • Food consumption
  • Birds