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Abstract

In flocks, individuals can search for their own food using the producer tactic or exploit the discoveries of companions using the scrounger tactic. Models of the producer–scrounger game usually assume that tactic payoffs are independent of individual phenotypic traits. However, factors such as dominance status or foraging efficiency may constrain the use of tactics and lead to asymmetric tactic use among individuals. For instance, in flocks composed of foragers with unequal foraging efficiency, foragers that are less efficient at obtaining food are expected to rely on the scrounger tactic to a greater extent. I examined the role of foraging efficiency and dominance status as potential correlates of scrounging behavior in small aviary flocks of zebra finches (Taenopygia guttata). Individual foraging efficiency was documented in each flock in a treatment that prevented scrounging. In a subsequent treatment that allowed scrounging, higher levels of scrounging occurred as predicted in foragers with lower foraging efficiency. Dominance status was a poor predictor of tactic choice. Birds that arrived later on the foraging grid foraged less efficiently when scrounging was prevented and used scrounging to a greater extent when allowed, suggesting a link between boldness, foraging efficiency and the choice of foraging tactics in small flocks of zebra finches.