Social foragers can alternate between searching for food (producer tactic), and searching for other individuals that have located food in order to join them (scrounger tactic). Both tactics yield equal rewards on average, but the rewards generated by producer are more variable. A dynamic variance-sensitive foraging model predicts that social foragers should increase their use of scrounger with increasing energy requirements and/or decreased food availability early in the foraging period. We tested whether natural variation in minimum energy requirements (basal metabolic rate or BMR) is associated with differences in the use of producer–scrounger foraging tactics in female zebra finches Taeniopygia guttata. As predicted by the dynamic variance-sensitive model, high BMR individuals had significantly greater use of the scrounger tactic compared with low BMR individuals. However, we observed no effect of food availability on tactic use, indicating that female zebra finches were not variance-sensitive foragers under our experimental conditions. This study is the first to report that variation in BMR within a species is associated with differences in foraging behaviour. BMR-related differences in scrounger tactic use are consistent with phenotype-dependent tactic use decisions. We suggest that BMR is correlated with another phenotypic trait which itself influences tactic use decisions.