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Effects of visual obstruction, prey resources, and satiety on bird use of simulated airport grasslands

By Bradley F. Blackwell, Thomas W. Seamans, Kimberly Linnell, Lisa Kutschbach-Brohl, Travis L. DeVault

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Abstract

Grasslands represent 39%–50% of U.S. airport properties, and a recent management framework recommended exploiting both antipredator behaviours and food resources in airport grasslands to curb use by birds considered hazardous to aviation safety. We evaluated framework predictions empirically by exposing unsated and sated brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater) to visually obstructive (∼13-cm vegetation height; tall), higher-risk plots versus unobstructive (24h post-mowing because of decreasing food abundance and availability in short plots; and 3) sated birds would be present in greater numbers and forage more in short vegetation overall, because vigilance needs would exceed that of food needs. We evaluated effects of visual obstruction (a metric correlated with both vegetation height and insect density) on behaviours within plots via generalized linear mixed models. Unsated cowbirds showed nearly equal numbers in tall and short plots (X¯ [SE] individuals using tall plots: 9.5 [5.1]; short plots: 9.8 [5.1], P=1.00, Wilcoxon Signed Ranks Test), and foraged nearly equally in both plots 24h post-mowing (tall plots: 6.9 [4.7] individuals; short plots: 6.6 [4.1] individuals, P=0.94). Prey availability was likely enhanced within short plots within 24h of mowing, but possibly in adjacent tall plots as well. Over the course of the experiments (8–9days) unsated cowbirds showed no difference in numbers between plots (tall plots: 8.2 [4.9] individuals; short plots: 11.4 [4.9] individuals, P=0.13), but foraged more in short plots (tall plots: 4.4 [3.8] individuals; short plots: 7.8 [4.2] individuals, P=0.01); visual obstruction was significantly and negatively correlated with foraging in tall plots. Sated cowbirds selected for short plots (use of tall plots: 5.9 [4.2] individuals; short plots: 11.7 [4.6] individuals, P

Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 185
Pages 113-120
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2016.10.005
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Tags
  1. Behavioral disciplines and activities
  2. Birds
  3. risk