Several studies have reported that some grassland birds are area sensitive; they exhibit a nonrandom avoidance of small fields. The methods used to test for area sensitivity, however, differed among studies. Some investigators sampled fields with sampling effort proportional to field size, whereas others used equal sampling effort in all fields. We created a simulation model with the same number of fields and field sizes as those examined in earlier studies to determine if birds that select habitat randomly would display area sensitivity if fields were sampled in proportion to their size. The three species that we modeled to settle randomly, upland sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda), Henslow's sparrow (Ammodramus henslowii) and eastern meadowlark (Sturnella magna), had positive relationships between occurrence and field size when a complete census or proportional sampling was used, and therefore, would have been considered area sensitive by the methods used by some previous authors. When equal-effort sampling was used, these species showed no relationship between occurrence and field size. Future studies on area sensitivity that use proportional sampling should compare results to a null model. Otherwise, conclusions made about area sensitivity may be erroneous because the response is a sampling artifact.
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Vol. 144 • No. 1