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Starling foraging success in relation to agricultural land-use

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Changes in agricultural land-use have been suggested to contribute to the decline of several bird species through negative effects on their food supply during breeding. One important change in land-use has been loss of pastures, especially permanent pastures. In this study we investigated how different forms of agricultural land-use affected foraging success of a declining bird species, the European starling Sturnus vulgaris. We let caged starlings forage in different forms of agricultural fields and determined time spent foraging and foraging success. The starlings’ activity level (time spent actively foraging) as well as the number of prey caught per time unit was strongly related to the abundance of prey in soil samples. Also the body mass change during the experiment was positively related to activity level and prey capture rate. We found consistent differences in foraging variables between habitats. In spring sown grain starlings were least active and found fewer prey items at a lower rate than in any other habitat. The other three habitats differed less, but in general mowed hay fields appeared slightly more valuable than the cultivated and natural pastures. We did not find any differences between natural and cultivated pastures in foraging variables. Thus, starling foraging success is higher in grass-covered fields than in cultivated fields, but the management of the grass-covered fields mattered less. The results are consistent with starlings having higher population densities and breeding success in areas with higher availability of pasture. We suggest that the physical structure of the habitat (sward height) and moisture may be additional variables that need to be taken into account to explain starling breeding density and success in the agricultural landscape.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2002

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