Differential effects of predation risk and competition over vigilance variables and feeding success in Eurasian siskins (Carduelis spinus)
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Many investigations have studied the effects of predation risk and competition over vigilance and feeding success, but they have proven to be difficult to discriminate. Moreover, none of the studies that have avoided the confusion has considered all the vigilance variables, food intake rate and time spent in the foraging patch. In this study, we designed an experiment with Eurasian siskins Carduelis spinus foraging on three bird table feeders: one with low predation risk and competition, one with low predation risk and high competition and one with high predation risk and intermediate competition. Birds responded to increasing interference competition by increasing mean scan durations (probably due to the birds having to be vigilant for both other flock members and predators) and maintaining the length of mean inter-scan durations, while they responded to increasing predation risk by reducing mean inter-scan durations (probably in order to detect the predator sooner) while maintaining similar length of mean scan durations. Birds were often ejected from the feeder or departed because of disturbances, so time spent on feeders was reduced both because of competition and predation risk. Pecking rates were affected by competition but not by predation risk. Our results clearly show that birds vigilance strategy while foraging might be very different when they are mainly concerned with scanning for predators or when they primarily monitor competing flock companions. In addition, they stress the importance of recording all the vigilance and feeding variables when studying the effect of ecological factors over the foraging behaviour of birds.
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