Shrewd alliances: mixed foraging associations between treeshrews, greater racket-tailed drongos and sparrowhawks on Great Nicobar Island, India

Meera Anna Oommen, Kartik Shanker

Abstract

Mixed-species foraging associations may form to enhance feeding success or to avoid predators. We report the costs and consequences of an unusual foraging association between an endemic foliage gleaning tupaid (Nicobar treeshrew Tupaia nicobarica) and two species of birds; one an insectivorous commensal (greater racket-tailed drongo Dicrurus paradiseus) and the other a diurnal raptor and potential predator (Accipiter sp.). In an alliance driven, and perhaps engineered, by drongos, these species formed cohesive groups with predictable relationships. Treeshrew breeding pairs were found more frequently than solitary individuals with sparrowhawks and were more likely to tolerate sparrowhawks in the presence of drongos. Treeshrews maintained greater distances from sparrowhawks than drongos, and permitted the raptors to come closer when drongos were present. Treeshrew foraging rates declined in the presence of drongos; however, the latter may provide them predator avoidance benefits. The choice of the raptor to join the association is intriguing; particular environmental resource states may drive the evolution of such behavioural strategies. Although foraging benefits seem to be the primary driver of this association, predator avoidance also influences interactions, suggesting that strategies driving the formation of flocks may be complex and context dependent with varying benefits for different actors.

Footnotes

  • Present address: Dakshin Foundation, C-305, Samvriddhi Gardenia, 88/3 Bytarayanapura, Bangalore 560065, India.

  • Received October 10, 2009.
  • Accepted November 16, 2009.
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