Habitat structure versus food abundance: the importance of sparse vegetation for the common redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus

Abstract

As many other birds breeding in agricultural areas, the common redstart declined strongly in many Central European countries over the last 60 years. The destruction of traditionally managed orchards, an important breeding habitat in Central Europe, is a relevant cause. An additional factor for the decline of this species could be the intensified management of the ground vegetation in orchards through reducing food availability and lowering prey detectability and accessibility. In this study we examined the importance of surfaces with sparse vegetation for the location of redstart territories and for foraging. To validate the results of these field studies we made habitat-choice experiments in aviaries with captive birds. Territories occupied by redstarts in orchards of northwestern Switzerland contained a significantly higher proportion of surfaces with sparse vegetation than unoccupied control sites. Redstarts made almost five times more hunting flights into experimentally established ruderal vegetation strips than into adjacent unmown meadows. No difference was observed when the meadow was freshly mown. Vegetation height and the proportion of open ground surface correctly predicted the vegetation type for hunting in 77% of the cases. Experiments in aviaries offering two types of sparse vegetation and a dense meadow supported the results of the field experiments. Even a four-fold increase of the food abundance in the meadow did not lead to a noticeable change in preference for the sparse vegetation types. For the conservation of the common redstart, not only traditionally managed orchards with tall trees with cavities should be preserved but also areas with sparse vegetation should be favored.

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Acknowledgments

We thank the Swiss aviculture association Parus for providing cages and other material for the aviary experiments, Martin Liebig for the common redstarts, Dieter Rudin and Susanne Kaufmann from the Landwirtschaftliches Zentrum Ebenrain for their financial and informative support, all people who sent information about common redstart broods, the farmers who established the ruderal vegetation strips, and the Dr. Joachim de Giacomi Foundation for their financial support. Furthermore, we thank Eva Knop, Michael Schaub, Reto Spaar, and two anonymous referees for her valuable comments on earlier drafts of the manuscript as well as Fränzi Korner-Nievergelt for statistical support. Permissions to import captive-bred common redstarts from Germany were obtained from the Swiss Federal Veterinary Office. Permission to keep the captive birds in cages and to do the experiments for this study were obtained from the Veterinary Office of the Canton of Aargau.

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Correspondence to Nicolas Martinez.

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Communicated by F. Bairlein.

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Martinez, N., Jenni, L., Wyss, E. et al. Habitat structure versus food abundance: the importance of sparse vegetation for the common redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus . J Ornithol 151, 297–307 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10336-009-0455-6

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Keywords

  • Orchard
  • Habitat structure
  • Foraging
  • Farmland
  • Phoenicurus phoenicurus