The Effect of Within-Flock Spatial Position on the Use of Social Foraging Tactics in Free-Living Tree Sparrows


Ferenc Mónus, Behavioural Ecology Research Group, Department of Evolutionary Zoology, University of Debrecen, Debrecen H-4010, Hungary. E-mail:


The benefit of producer (searches for own food) or scrounger (exploits the others’ food discoveries) foraging tactic in a group of socially feeding animals may depend on where the individual searches for food within the group. Scrounging may be more advantageous in the centre of the group, having more individuals around to join, while producing may be more beneficial at the edges, where more unexplored food patches may be found. This study shows within-flock position correlates with foraging tactic use of feeding birds in socially foraging tree sparrows, Passer montanus. Sparrows staying closer to the centre of the flock found their food patches more frequently by joining (i.e. use more frequently the scrounging tactic) than those staying toward the edges. To our knowledge this is the first field study demonstrating the relationship between spatial position and foraging tactic use. We investigated this relationship under different perceived predation hazard, and found that under elevated risk of predation, central individuals may increase their use of joining more than individuals on the periphery of the flock. Moreover, we show that extremely specialized use of searching tactics may be very infrequent in tree sparrows. As both within-flock position and search tactic use can be altered very quickly and without leaving the flock, individuals may easily alter them in order to adjust their behaviour.