Numerical and behavioural responses of migrant passerines to experimental manipulation of resident tits (Parus spp.): heterospecific attraction in northern breeding bird communites?

  • Mönkkönen M
  • Helle P
  • Soppela K
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Abstract

We studied experimentally interspecific competition among foliage-gleaning passerine birds by manipulating the density of resident tits. In 1988 tit density was experimentally increased on three small islands in a central Finnish lake, and decreased on three other islands by tit removal. In order to avoid the effects of between-island differences in habitat quality, the role of the islands was reversed when the experiment was repeated in the following year. Censuses and observations on foraging and feeding behaviour were conducted to assess the numerical and behavioural responses of migrant conguilders (mainly chaffinches and willow warblers) with respect to the manipulated abundance of the tits. We also measured whether variation in food consumption of tits affected the frequency with which the migrants found food by calculating average intervals between successful prey captures, time lags to prey-capture and giving-up times. Our results indicate that interspecific competition is of minor importance in structuring breeding bird assemblages and species feeding ecologies on the study islands. No consistent difference in foraging or feeding niches of chaffinches and willow warblers was found between low and high tit density conditions. Niche overlap analysis showed no avoidance by chaffinches and willow warblers of the microhabitats which tits used. Tit abundance had no significant effect on feeding success or behaviour. Experimentally increased abundance of resident birds was associated with increased abundance of breeding migrants, however. This pattern was found not only in the foliage gleaning guild but also with all passerine birds, indicating that food was not an important contributor to this pattern. We elaborate a hypothesis suggesting heterospecific attraction in northern breeding bird assemblages. Habitat generalist migrants may use the presence of residents as an indicator of safe and/or productive breeding sites in northern unpredictable circumstances.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Boreal forest
  • Community structure
  • Interspecific competition
  • Niche shifts
  • Passerine birds

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