Relationship between Distance to Cover, Vigilance and Group Size in Staging Flocks of Semipalmated Sandpipers


Guy Beauchamp, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Montréal, PO Box 5000, St-Hyacinthe, Québec J2S 7C6, Canada.


Cover can be either a source of protection or a source of danger for foragers. Distance to cover creates a gradient in predation risk that allows examining adjustments in anti-predator behaviour such as group size and vigilance. As distance to obstructive cover increases, both group size and vigilance are expected to decrease given that individuals have more time to react to a more distant source of danger. I provide an empirical test of these predictions in staging semipalmated sandpipers (Calidris pusilla) in a system controlling for many confounding factors that have marred earlier research. Controlling for food density, forager density and phenotypic attributes often correlated with distance to cover, I found that as distance to obstructive cover increased, sandpipers foraged in sparser groups, were less flighty and to some extent less vigilant. Such controlled studies are needed to re-assess the relationship between distance to cover and anti-predator behaviour.