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Consequences of the settlement of migrant European Robins Erithacus rubecula in wintering habitats occupied by conspecific residents

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In wintering areas where migrant birds meet sedentary conspecifics, early settlement of local residents in the best habitat patches might reduce the availability of suitable sites for arriving migrants. We studied how sympatric migratory and sedentary European Robins Erithacus rubecula occupy two wintering habitats of different quality (forests and shrublands) in southern Spain, and how such a distribution affects individuals of each population sector. In September, before migrants arrived, Robins were only found in forests, and they had already saturated these habitats, so that rather than increasing Robin abundance in these habitats, the arrival of migrants caused a massive occupation of the previously vacant shrublands. During the winter, we captured Robins and identified them as migrants or residents using a discriminant function based on morphological traits. Residents always predominated in forests, and migrants in shrublands, but through the winter around 35% of residents (mainly juveniles) moved to shrublands, having been replaced by some migrants in forests. Although food was more abundant in shrublands, Robins had better body condition in forests, suggesting that other factors determined habitat preferences (e.g. shelter availability or food diversity, which were higher in forests). In addition, we observed a greater variance in body mass relative to body size in forests, suggesting that energy management was less constrained in this habitat (for example owing to a lower exposure to predators or a higher food predictability). Our results suggest that sedentary Robins benefit from an early occupation of the best habitats in the wintering grounds, forcing migrants to colonize apparently less suitable sites. This would explain the persistence of these small southern populations despite the yearly flooding of the area by huge numbers of migrant conspecifics.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2004-04-01

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