Seed-eating birds may consume seeds in the tree (pre-dispersal predation) as well as on the ground (post-dispersal predation), usually at contrasting microhabitat conditions. We examined the foraging behaviour and contribution to seed predation of a whole assemblage of seed-eating birds (mostly Fringillidae) at both dispersal phases (pre- and post-dispersal) in a wind-dispersed tree, the European White Elm Ulmus laevis. We found that most seed predators were tree-feeding birds that prey upon seeds for longer periods in the tree and spend shorter periods in larger flocks foraging on the ground. We also obtained significant differences in predation speed among the seed predator species. The overall number of seeds consumed by birds, as well as the amount of time spent foraging in the tree, increased with increasing feeding heights. Seed availability increases with height, which seems to be the main reason why birds spend more time foraging on higher branches. Birds strongly differed in their perching coefficient (PC, ration of feeding height to distance from crown edge). Small finches such as Serins Serinus serinus and Goldfinches Carduelis carduelis had a very high value of PC in comparison to large finches such as Greenfinches Carduelis chloris, Chaffinches Fringilla coelebs, and Hawfinches Coccothraustes coccothraustes. In general, finches showed much higher values of PC than non-fringillid species, indicating a greater adaptation to perch and feed on more flexible stems. Birds increased their overall seed predation and the time allocated to foraging on the ground when they were in flocks. Small finches tended to follow larger finches and flock in multispecies groups when foraging on the ground. We suggest that this behaviour increases both feeding efficiency and safety. Further studies should take into account possible differences in behavior of seed-eating birds throughout the dispersal season since it may have important implications for their adaptive behavior to select new niches.
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Vol. 49 • No. 1