The early bird gets the worm: foraging strategies of wild songbirds lead to the early discovery of food sources

Damien R. Farine, Stephen D. J. Lang


Animals need to manage the combined risks of predation and starvation in order to survive. Theoretical and empirical studies have shown that individuals can reduce predation risk by delaying feeding (and hence fat storage) until late afternoon. However, little is known about how individuals manage the opposing pressures of resource uncertainty and predation risks. We suggest that individuals should follow a two-part strategy: prioritizing the discovery of food early in the day and exploiting the best patch late in the day. Using automated data loggers, we tested whether a temporal component exists in the discovery of novel foraging locations by individuals in a mixed-species foraging guild. We found that food deployed in the morning was discovered significantly more often than food deployed in the afternoon. Based on the diurnal activity patterns in this population, overall rates of new arrivals were also significantly higher than expected in the morning and significantly lower than expected in the afternoon. These results align with our predictions of a shift from patch discovery to exploitation over the course of the day.

  • Received June 25, 2013.
  • Accepted September 12, 2013.
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