Quantifying the effects of habitat structure on prey detectability and accessibility to farmland birds


*Corresponding author. Email: simon.butler@zoo.ox.ac.uk


For species that rely on visual cues to detect prey items, increasing the structural complexity of a patch can greatly influence forager behaviour through consequent reductions in prey detectability and accessibility. These effects are likely to manifest themselves in terms of foraging site selection and there is plentiful evidence for preferential site selection for a suite of taxa. However, the underlying effects of habitat structure on foraging behaviour, which are likely to drive these observed site selections, are much less well understood. We present the results of two studies designed to quantify the effects of vegetation structure on prey detectability and accessibility to avian invertebrate feeders and granivores on farmland. There was a significant negative relationship between potential prey detectability and both distance and vegetation height in cereal crops and stubbles for Northern Lapwings Vanellus vanellus. The interscan distance travelled by Lapwings differed significantly between habitats, with longer distances travelled in cereal crops and harrowed compared with ploughed soil and grasses. The peck rate, head-up rate and mean search period of foraging Chaffinches Fringilla coelebs were not affected by increasing vegetation structure but forager mobility was significantly reduced. We hope that by quantifying the effects of vegetation structure on prey detectability and accessibility we can highlight the importance of considering these factors, as well as prey abundance, when developing management strategies for farmland birds.