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Do birds of a feather flock together? Comparing habitat preferences of piscivorous waterbirds in a lowland river catchment

Abstract

Waterbirds can move into and exploit new areas of suitable habitat outside of their native range. One such example is the little egret (Egretta garzetta), a piscivorous bird which has colonised southern Britain within the last 30 years. Yet, habitat use by little egrets within Britain, and how such patterns of habitat exploitation compare with native piscivores, remains unknown. We examine overlap in habitat preferences within a river catchment between the little egret and two native species, the grey heron (Ardea cinerea) and great cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo). All species showed strong preferences for river habitat in all seasons, with other habitat types used as auxiliary feeding areas. Seasonal use of multiple habitat types is consistent with egret habitat use within its native range. We found strong egret preference for aquatic habitats, in particular freshwaters, compared with pasture and arable agricultural habitat. Egrets showed greater shared habitat preferences with herons, the native species to which egrets are most morphologically and functionally similar. This is the first study to quantify little egret habitat preferences outside of its native range.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Lucy Mulholland for field assistance and the riparian landowners for access to the study area. Stuart Halse and two anonymous reviewers provided valuable feedback on an earlier version of this manuscript. We are grateful to the Freshwater Biological Association and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology for logistical support.

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Correspondence to Kevin A. Wood.

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Handling editor: Stuart Anthony Halse

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Wood, K.A., Stillman, R.A. Do birds of a feather flock together? Comparing habitat preferences of piscivorous waterbirds in a lowland river catchment. Hydrobiologia 738, 87–95 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10750-014-1921-6

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10750-014-1921-6

Keywords

  • Aquatic landscape
  • Avian colonisation
  • Electivity index
  • Habitat selection
  • Ornitholimnology
  • Wading birds