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Where and When To Feed: Sex and Experience Affect Access To Food in Wintering Snow Buntings

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In group-foraging species an individual's ability to feed in the most beneficial situations could influence its overall foraging success more than its ability to find and handle food. Here we examined whether sex, age or site experience of individual snow buntings Plectrophenax nivalis in winter flocks could help explain how frequently they were found in advantageous foraging situations. We found that inexperienced females were scarcer than expected in large flocks, that females fed less often in the early parts of flock feeding bouts, and that older and more experienced birds were more likely to feed in central flock positions. In addition, the likelihood of moving around the feeding station increased more with flock-size in females, while older birds were better at retaining access to the feeding patch. Previously reported differences in peck-rate between sex and age/experience categories of this species are therefore likely to be magnified by differential access to sources of food. We suggest that experience may help individuals to integrate within the feeding flock, but aggression from larger males may cause females to delay feeding or to feed in smaller flocks.

Affiliations: 1: Applied Ornithology Unit, Graham Kerr Building, Institute of Biomedical and Life Sciences, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ, UK


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