According to habitat selection theory, individuals selecting among habitat patches should either avoid or be attracted to conspecifics. This study examined Cattle Egrets (Bubulcus ibis) foraging around two grazing horses (Equus caballus), which represented two distinct habitat patches. The numbers of Cattle Egrets in the two patches were not significantly different, and the egrets were regularly distributed between the two patches. When settling in the two patches, 66% of the egrets selected the patch occupied by fewer conspecifics. All egrets choosing the patch occupied by more conspecifics did so only when the numbers of egrets in the two patches differed by one egret. When the numbers of egrets in the two patches differed by two or more egrets, newly arriving birds always chose the patch occupied by fewer conspecifics. As the number of egrets within a patch increased, nearest-neighbor distances decreased, and rates of aggression increased. Thus, these results indicate that the Cattle Egrets avoided conspecifics when selecting among habitat patches and that this distribution was achieved through individual patch selection decisions and density-dependent aggression.
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Vol. 26 • No. 3