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What attracts birds to newly mown pasture? Decoupling the action of mowing from the provision of short swards

Lookup NU author(s): Claire Devereux, Professor Mark WhittinghamORCiD


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Many bird species flock to forage on newly mown grass swards. Several potential benefits are offered by such swards, including increases in prey availability (flush of foliar prey, reduced physical obstruction to surface and soil prey) and a foraging environment with fewer visual obstructions, so allowing predators to be detected more easily. We performed a field experiment using captive Common Starlings Sturnus vulgaris foraging in bottomless enclosures on newly mown swards (within 1 h) and old mown swards (48 h). We performed the experiment during winter months and standardized sward height to exclude other confounding effects in order to determine the temporal benefits of mowing for species foraging on soil invertebrates. We found no differences in the vigilance or time budgets of Starlings foraging on newly or old mown swards. Intake efficiency (prey captured per 100 roots) was greater on newly mown swards, suggesting that Starlings used less energy to obtain their prey on that substrate. It is possible that mowing alters the microclimate of the soil and sward, causing invertebrate availability to decline over time, which causes the lower foraging efficiency. Mowing is a technique often used to manipulate grassland habitats in ecological research; it has recently been advocated as a conservation management tool for wintering bird populations. We suggest that care should be taken when designing such studies to avoid confounding the factors under investigation with temporal changes in prey availability. © 2006 British Ornithologists' Union.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Devereux CL, Whittingham MJ, Krebs JR, Fernandez-Juricic E, Vickery JA

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Ibis

Year: 2006

Volume: 148

Issue: 2

Pages: 302-306

ISSN (print): 0019-1019

ISSN (electronic): 1474-919X

Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell


DOI: 10.1111/j.1474-919X.2006.00533.x


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