Flocking behaviour of foraging birds in a neotropical rain forest and the antipredator defence hypothesis

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:1998
Authors:Thiollay, J-M, JULLIEN, MATHILDE
Date Published:1998
ISBN Number:1474-919X
Keywords:Daptrius, Daptrius americanus, Falconidae, French Guiana, Ibycter, Ibycter americanus
Abstract:Randomly encountered foraging birds were recorded in a primary rain forest of French Guiana (13,550 records of 216 species), together with their size, diet and habitat use, to assess the relative frequencies of different types of flocking behaviour and some of their ecological correlates. Overall, 42% of birds foraged singly, primarily carnivores (raptors), nectarivores (hummingbirds) and lek-mating frugivores (manakins, some cotingas). For-aging in pairs (26.6%) was widespread, notably among insectivores in the 17–32-g size class. The remaining 31.4% of records were birds in groups of different composition and function, including, in order of decreasing frequency, (1) multispecies upper canopy flocks (83 member species identified)—the largest and most mobile associations of small insectivores, nectarivores and frugivores, mostly tanagers; (2) understorey mixed species flocks of small insectivores, at midlevels of closed forest interior, with 12 core, obligate members and 74 occasional species, mostly active foliage or bark gleaners and probers sharing a unique set of ecological characteristics; (3) monospecific groups (29 species), either gregarious foragers but solitary breeders (large frugivores in canopy) or also breeding colonially or several permanently group living cooperative breeders; (4) opportunistic gatherings of frugivores at fruiting trees (at least 40 species); (5) army ant followers near ground of closed understorey (29 species of mid- to large-sized insectivores); (6) followers of Red-throated Caracaras Daptrius americanus (23 species, usually canopy frugivores entering understorey with caracaras); (7) two raptors following monkeys. Attributes of vulnerability to predators defined by habitat structure (vegetation density or openness) and foraging behaviour (conspicuousness, speed, degree of vigilance) were important determinants of flocking propensity, at least in flocks that were not attracted by a particular food source. The results suggest that the permanent mixed-species flocks in the mature forest under-storey may be an antipredator defence to compensate for the conspicuousness and reduced vigilance resulting from active foraging behaviour in semi-open vegetation, where early detection of predators is difficult.
Short Title:Ibis
Taxonomic name: 
Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith