Interaction between seed crypsis and habitat structure influence patch choice in a granivorous bird, the chaffinch Fringilla coelebs


  • Katherine A. Jones,

  • John R. Krebs,

  • Mark J. Whittingham

K. A. Jones (correspondence) and J. R. Krebs, Department of Zoology, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PS, UK. – M. J. Whittingham, Ridley Building, Division of Biology, School of Biology and Psychology, Newcastle-upon-Tyne NE1 7RU, UK.


Food abundance is an important determinant in habitat and patch selection but food accessibility and detectability is less often considered. Foraging on more cryptic seeds may increase predation risk by increasing the length of head down periods. Habitat structure may interact with this as birds are less able to detect predators with their head lowered in riskier obstructed habitats. We investigated patch choice in chaffinches Fringilla coelebs foraging in obstructed and open habitats and artificially manipulated the search times of seeds by colouring them either yellow or black. One trial consisted of a choice between the conspicuous seed in the open patch, and the cryptic seed in the obstructed patch; in the second trial the treatments were reversed. Individuals were more willing to forage in the obstructed habitat when the yellow seeds were present (43% of pecks made in the obstructed patch) than when the black seeds were present (18% of pecks in the obstructed patch). Differences in search time are likely to explain this result: yellow seeds were located almost twice as fast (1.26±0.60 seconds) as black ones (2.36±0.88 seconds). This experiment shows that individual foraging decisions may be influenced not only by food abundance but by the properties of individual food items (in this case seed crypsis) and the structure of the habitat they are present in.