What do declining woodland birds eat? A synthesis of dietary records

Emma Razeng, David Watson

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Ground-foraging insectivores are prominent among the 26 species considered 'declining woodland birds' in southern Australia but the mechanisms driving their declines remain elusive. Nutritional factors may be critical, with larger and more structurally complex woodlands supporting greater arthropod biomass, but these differences need not translate into more arthropods actually consumed by these insectivores. We synthesised existing dietary records of a subset of the 26 declining woodland birds ' 13 ground-foraging insectivorous passerines ' to determine the range of arthropods consumed and to estimate the relative importance of each prey group for these birds. Declining insectivores consumed a wide array of arthropods, but diets were characteristically dominated by one or two prey groups: Coleoptera, Formicidae and Lepidoptera accounted for 58% of prey records. Coleoptera contributed the greatest proportion of records (27%) and was the dominant prey group in the diets of nine of the 13 birds. These popular prey groups likely represent core resources supporting populations of declining insectivores and measurement of their abundance may provide meaningful estimates of the availability of prey. We highlight the need to quantify the size-range and identity of those prey eaten by declining woodland birds, and propose that reliance on a small number of prey groups may underlie the sensitivity of ground-foraging insectivores to modification of habitat.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)149-156
Number of pages8
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 2012


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