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Keywords:

  • crayfish;
  • diet flexibility;
  • fish;
  • prey availability;
  • Procambarus fallax;
  • refuse;
  • roaches;
  • wading birds

Prey availability is known to limit reproduction of some species of nesting birds, but identifying the primary prey types of a species with a flexible diet can be challenging. For the White Ibis Eudocimus albus, a tactile feeding, medium-sized wading bird, nestling prey composition is suggested to depend on landscape water depths/availability of foraging habitat at the time of nesting and on historical drying events affecting prey production. We collected and compared inter- and intra-annual diet variation of White Ibis chicks reared in the Everglades over two years that were independently identified as being relatively good (2006) and poor (2007) nesting seasons. We collected 127 nestling boluses and analysed the temporal variation in biomass of eight functional prey groups using multivariate techniques. The boluses from 2006 in the central Everglades were dominated by fish, but in 2007, after fish had been reduced by the previous year of drying, the boluses from the same region were more variable and dominated by garbage (i.e. scavenging). Analysis of five different collections taken from a different colony in the northern Everglades indicated that boluses were characterized by crayfish and had fewer fish or less garbage when landscape water depths were relatively higher and more preferred habitat was available. At lower landscape water depths in 2007 the bolus composition shifted away from crayfish towards small fish and urban food (terrestrial insects and garbage). Our results support the suggestion of depth-dependent diets; prey composition depends on the current landscape water levels around the colonies, and also suggests that previous drying events can lead to increased reliance on alternative food sources. White Ibis partially compensated for unavailable aquatic prey with alternative urban foods, but their nesting success appears to have suffered.