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Abstract

We studied movements and conflicts within a small flock of free-living black-tailed godwits foraging on benthic invertebrates in a brackish lagoon. To interpret our results in the framework of foraging theory, we studied the influence of individual feeding rate on the decisions to move and to attack flock companions. Birds changed their position within the flock more often when their intake rate was low and sometimes attacked conspecifics to supplant them from their feeding place. Aggressors significantly avoided front attacks and were almost always successful. They attacked individuals having higher feeding rates than themselves and their own feeding rate significantly increased after the attack, although victims were not chased off to particularly poor sites. Our results suggest that aggressors could obtain reliable information about the quality of the foraging site they coveted by observing their victim’s feeding activity before attacking. Although aggression seemed to be caused by a low intake rate, we show that displacing another bird was more time-consuming than independent foraging. We conclude that it was not the most profitable behaviour in terms of energy intake. Foraging site displacement probably also had social functions, such as reinforcement of social status in a flock of birds preparing for pre-breeding migration.