Composition of mixed-species flocks and shifts in foraging location of flocking species on Hainan Island, China


Corresponding author.


A total of 134 bird species were recorded at Jianfengling, Hainan Island, in China from May 2000 to September 2004, of which 44 participated in one or more of 134 mixed-species flocks. These flocks averaged 3.8 ± 0.2 species and 20.3 ± 1.2 individuals. Flocking propensity in a given species ranged from 1.5 to 100%. For flocking species, frequency of flocking and number of individuals in flocks was positively correlated with frequency and number in point counts. Among all species pairs with flocking frequency above 5%, cluster and correlation analysis indicated there were two principal groups of flocking birds – canopy species and understorey species: associations were positive within a group, but negative between groups. Canopy birds had a higher flocking propensity than understorey birds. They also made significantly less use of inner branches and trunks and greater use of middle branches, and foraged at a significantly greater height when in mixed-species flocks than when solitary. For understorey bird species, there were no significant differences in foraging locations between solitary and mixed-species flocks. Higher flocking frequency occurred in the wet season for canopy birds, but in the dry season for understorey birds. Overall patterns were consistent with the explanation that flocking enables an expansion of foraging niche by reducing the risk of predation.