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Travel distance and mass gain in wintering blackbirds

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Abstract

Birds that range over a large area will have a greater mass-dependent risk of predation than more sedentary birds. Birds that travel more may then reduce winter mass gain to compensate for the increased predation risk that greater travelling entails. I tested whether European blackbird, Turdus merula, that travelled more in winter had a lower mass than more sedentary birds, independently of any confounding effects of food supply on both ranging behaviour and mass gain. I measured change in winter mass and amount of food eaten in conjunction with the distance that blackbirds travelled to a randomly sited mobile feeder. Blackbirds that travelled shorter distances (per trip and in total) and less often to the feeder had the highest mass midwinter relative to their spring mass. Blackbirds with a higher mean mass midwinter also travelled, on average, shorter distances to the feeder. The distance an individual blackbird travelled to the feeder at any one time was probably independent of the state of its daily energy reserves (how much of its daily total mass gain it had achieved at that point). The relationship between distance travelled and mass was probably independent of food supply because distances actually increased at the end of the winter and the amount of food eaten per individual changed little. More mobile blackbirds were therefore likely to have compensated for any increases in predation risk associated with their greater ranges by decreasing winter mass gain, but will have had an increased risk of starvation because of their lower mass.

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1109-1116
Number of pages8
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Volume58
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1999

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