Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 8, Issue 1, pp 36–52 | Cite as

Avian daily foraging patterns: Effects of digestive constraints and variability

  • Peter A. Bednekoff
  • Alasdair I. Houston


Birds show a typical daily pattern of heavy morning and secondary afternoon feeding. We investigate the pattern of foraging by a bird that results in the lowest long-term rate of mortality. We assume the following: mortality is the sum of starvation and predation. The bird is characterized by two state variables, its energy reserves and the amount of food in its stomach. Starvation occurs during the day if the bird's reserves fall to zero. The bird starves during the night if the total energy stored in reserves and the stomach is less than a critical amount. The probability that the bird is killed by a predator is higher if the bird is foraging than if it is resting. Furthermore, the predation risk while foraging increases with the bird's mass. From these assumptions, we use dynamic programming techniques to find the daily foraging routine that minimizes mortality. The principal results are (1) Variability in food finding leads to routines with feeding concentrated early in the day, (2) digestive constraints cause feeding to be spread more evenly through the day, (3) even under fairly severe digestive constraints, the stomach is generally not full and (4) optimal fat reserve levels are higher in more variable environments and under digestive constraints. This model suggests that the characteristic daily feeding pattern of small birds is not due to digestive constraints but is greatly influenced by environmental variability.


foraging daily routine digestion starvation predation reserves 


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Copyright information

© Chapman & Hall 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter A. Bednekoff
    • 1
  • Alasdair I. Houston
    • 2
  1. 1.Edward Grey Institute, Department of ZoologyUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  2. 2.NERC Unit of Behavioural Ecology, Department of ZoologyUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

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