The effect of kleptoparasite and host numbers on the risk of food-stealing in an avian assemblage
Journal: Journal of Avian Biology
Kleptoparasitism involves the theft of resources such as food items from one individual by another. Such food-stealing behaviour can have important consequences for birds, in terms of individual fitness and population sizes. In order to understand avian host-kleptoparasite interactions, studies are needed which identify the factors which modulate the risk of kleptoparasitism. In temperate European intertidal areas, Eurasian oystercatchers Haematopus ostralegus feed primarily on bivalve molluscs, which may be stolen by kleptoparasitic species such as carrion crows Corvus corone and herring gulls Larus argentatus. In this study we combined overwinter foraging observations of oystercatchers and their kleptoparasites on the Exe Estuary, UK, with statistical modelling to identify the factors that influence the likelihood of successful food stealing behaviour occurring. Across the winter, 16.4% of oystercatcher foraging attempts ended in successful kleptoparasitism; the risk of theft was lowest in February (10.8%) and highest in December (36.3%). Using an information theoretic approach to compare multiple logistic regression models we present evidence that the outcome of host foraging attempts varied with the number of kleptoparasites per host within the foraging patch for two out of five individual months, and for all months grouped. Successful, kleptoparasitism was more likely to occur when the total number of all kleptoparasites per host was greater. Across the entire winter study period, oystercatcher foraging attempts that resulted in kleptoparasitism were associated with a mean number of kleptoparasites per host that was more than double that for foraging attempts that ended in the oystercatcher successfully consuming the mussel. Conversely, the stage of the tidal cycle within the estuary did not affect the outcome of oystercatcher foraging attempts. Our study provides evidence that bird numbers influence the risk of kleptoparasitism within avian assemblages.