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How do birds search for breeding areas at the landscape level? Interpatch movements of male ortolan buntings

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Animal movements at large spatial scales are of great importance in population ecology, yet little is known due to practical problems following individuals across landscapes. We studied the whole Norwegian population of a small songbird (ortolan bunting, Emberiza hortulana) occupying habitat patches dispersed over nearly 500 km2. Movements of colour-ringed males were monitored during ten years, and extensive long-distance dispersal was recorded. More than half of all cases of breeding dispersal took place within one breeding season, and males moved up to 43 km between singing territories, using 1–22 d. Natal dispersal was usually to a habitat patch close to the natal patch, or within the natal patch if it was large. Breeding dispersal movements were often long-distance, beyond neighbouring patches, and up to 11–19 patches were overflown. Movements of at least 6–9 km across areas of unsuitable habitat occurred regularly. The number of patches visited was low (1–4) even though search costs in terms of time spent moving from one site to another were relatively low (often only a few days even for distances >10 km). Most males seemed to use a threshold tactic when choosing a patch, but returns to previously visited patches were recorded, including some cases of commuting. In conclusion, male ortolan buntings have a surprising ability to move quickly at the landscape level, and this resulted in a high connectivity of patches. We discuss our results in relation to optimal searching strategies, in particular the use of within-breeding season versus post-breeding season search, conspecific attraction and adaptive late arrival of young birds.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2006

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