Effects of bird feeder density on the foraging behaviors of a backyard songbird (The house finch, haemorhous mexicanus) subject to seasonal disease outbreaks


Provisioning of wildlife, such as backyard bird feeding, can alter animal behavior and ecology in diverse ways. For species that are highly dependent on supplemental resources, it is critical to understand how variation in the degree of provisioning, as occurs naturally across backyards, alters wildlife behavior and ecology in ways potentially relevant to disease spread. We experimentally manipulated feeder density at suburban sites and tracked local abundance, foraging behaviors, body mass, and movement in House Finches (Haemorhous mexicanus (P.L. Statius Müller, 1776)), the primary host of a pathogen commonly spread at feeders. Sites with high feeder density harbored higher local House Finch abundance, and birds at these sites had longer feeding bouts and total time on feeders relative to sites with low feeder density. House Finches at high-density feeder sites had lower residual body mass despite greater apparent feeder access. Finally, birds first recorded at low-density feeder sites were more likely to move to neighboring high-density feeder sites than vice versa. Because local abundance and time spent on feeders have both been linked with disease risk in this species, the effects of heterogeneity in bird feeder density on these traits may have important consequences for disease dynamics in this system and more broadly.

Publication Title

Canadian Journal of Zoology