Food hoarding behaviour of black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) in relation to forest edges

  • Brotons L
  • Desrochers A
  • Turcotte Y
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In temperate forests, small birds avoid the use of forest edges in adverse winter weather suggesting high foraging costs in terms of energetic requirements. Since hoarding species will often retrieve caches during adverse winter weather, they may perceive forest edges, especially exposed ones as low quality hoarding sites. We tested whether black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) inhabiting fragmented forests modify and reduce hoarding activity near forest edges. We also tested whether hoarding behaviour will be most affected in sites with forest edges more exposed to extreme weather. Black-capped chickadees taking food from a feeder 30 m from the nearest forest edges hoarded items mostly towards the forest interior, whereas no preference in hoarding location was observed with birds taking food from a feeder placed > 100 m from the edge. Furthermore, birds avoided direct flights towards forest edges and, at sites exposed to prevailing winds, hoarding trips were shorter than at other locations. These results suggest that individuals avoid hoarding near forest edges acid there, they lower their investment in terms of hoarding effort. The observed difference in hoarding behaviour was more evident near forest edges delimiting wide unforested areas than in edges delimiting narrower unforested areas. Edge exposure to prevailing winds influenced hoarding behaviour much less. We suggest that hoarding birds may partially overcome the ecological costs of habitat loss and fragmentation due to abiotic edge effects. By hoarding food away from forest edges in good weather, they may use forest interiors as low-cost retrieval sites under adverse weather.

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