Modeling the flocking propensity of passerine birds in two Neotropical habitats

  • Pomara L
  • Cooper R
  • Petit L
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We examined the importance of mixed-species flock abundance, individual bird home range size, foraging height, and foraging patch characteristics in predicting the propensity for five Neotropical passerine bird species (Slaty Antwren, Myrmotherula schisticolor; Golden-crowned Warbler, Basileuterus culicivorus; Slate-throated Redstart, Myioborus miniatus; Wilson's Warbler, Wilsonia pusilla; and Black-and-white Warbler, Mniotilta varia) to forage within flocks, rather than solitarily. We used study plots in primary mid-elevation forest and in shade coffee fields in western Panama. We expected that all species would spend as much time as possible flocking, but that the social and environmental factors listed above would limit compatibility between flock movements and individual bird movements, explaining variability in flocking propensity both within and among species. Flocking propensity was well predicted by home range size and flock abundance together, for four of the five species. While flock abundance was uniform across plots, home range sizes varied among species and plots, so that home range size appeared to be the principle factor limiting flocking propensity. Estimates of flock abundance were still required, however, for calculating flocking propensity values. Foraging height and patch characteristics slightly improved predictive ability for the remaining species, M. miniatus. In general, individual birds tended to join flocks whenever one was available inside their home range, regardless of a flock's specific location within the home range. Flocking propensities of individual species were lower in shade coffee fields than in forests, and probably vary across landscapes with variations in habitat. This variability affects the stability and species composition of flocks, and may affect survival rates of individual species.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Community dynamics
  • Home range
  • Mixed-species flock
  • Multi-species flock
  • Shade coffee

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  • Lars Y. Pomara

  • Robert J. Cooper

  • Lisa J. Petit

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