As the trend towards urbanization continues, natural areas near dense human populations can be impacted by development, and increased recreational use of these natural areas may increase disturbance of wildlife. Many waterbirds use areas that are generally subject to elevated levels of human disturbance and some species consequently are often considered highly susceptible to disturbance. In 2013 and 2014 we assessed the effects of human recreational disturbance on Green Herons (Butorides virescens) through the use of focal observations at sites of varying disturbance. We collected behavioral data (n = 154 observations) along the headwaters of the San Marcos River located in Central Texas. We built 15 linear regression models to assess the potential influence of human disturbance as well as potential influence of habitat differences between study sites on each of five response variables (four foraging behaviors plus foraging efficiency). Using Akaike's Information Criterion model selection, we found that differences in foraging habitat provided the best explanation for the observed variation in four of the five response variables measured. Our results suggest Green Heron foraging behavior was influenced more by habitat than human disturbance events; however, foraging efficiency was the highest in least disturbed site. It is possible these birds have become habituated to disturbance (i.e., more tolerant of human presence) and perhaps now only modify their foraging technique in order to maximize their foraging efficiency to suit a specific location. These findings are noteworthy because it is important to distinguish cases where human disturbance impacts a species from cases where human disturbance has less of an effect.
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