Visitation rate and behavior of urban mesocarnivores differs in the presence of two common anthropogenic food sources

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Abstract

Cat food left out for feral and domestic cats and bird seed spilled from backyard bird feeders are two common anthropogenic food sources that may attract non-target animals like urban mesocarnivores but no studies have quantified mesocarnivore visitation at these food sources. We used motion-activated video cameras to monitor mesocarnivore use of spilled bird seed below 25 bird feeders maintained by residents in four neighborhoods in Flagstaff, Arizona, June-September 2012 and 2014. During the first five nights of monitoring only seed that spilled naturally below feeders was available. On each of the subsequent five nights, we placed a bowl of commercially available dry cat food below feeders so that both spilled seed and cat food were present. In both years, after cat food was added, the number of visits by striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis), raccoons (Procyon lotor) and domestic cats (Felis cattus) doubled and the number of times two animals were present simultaneously also increased. Aggressive interactions, in the form of displays or contacts, increased for all species combinations but significantly only between skunks in the presence of cat food. These results demonstrate that both spilled bird seed and cat food may be exploited frequently by urban mesocarnivores and that the type of food can elicit different behavioral responses that could have important implications for human-wildlife conflict and disease transmission.

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Theimer, T. C., Clayton, A. C., Martinez, A., Peterson, D. L., & Bergman, D. L. (2015). Visitation rate and behavior of urban mesocarnivores differs in the presence of two common anthropogenic food sources. Urban Ecosystems, 18(3), 895–906. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11252-015-0436-x

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