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Arboreal birds do not avoid scattered trees in West Africa

  • LEO ZWARTS (a1), ROB G. BIJLSMA (a2) and JAN VAN DER KAMP (a1)
Summary

Arboreal birds tend to remain in woody vegetation and avoid crossing open areas. Therefore, few tree-dwelling birds are to be expected in scattered trees. We tested this expectation with field data collected in the deserts, savannas and open agricultural parklands of West Africa where woody cover in 1,327 stratified random study sites varied between 0.2 and 29%. We found no evidence that scattered trees were avoided. Instead, bird density in trees was independent of trees occurring clumped or singly. The presence of birds in an individual tree was related to tree species and tree-related variables, but not to woody cover or species composition of the surrounding woody vegetation. We hypothesise that scattered trees are not avoided because (1) travel time between trees is too short to have a negative impact on foraging time, (2) predation risk of arboreal passerines is very low (bird-hunting raptors are scarce in the deserts and savannas of West Africa and mostly prey on ground-feeding, not arboreal, birds), and (3) the probability of being chased away by other arboreal birds is less when trees are more scattered. Scattered trees are ecologically important since hundreds of millions of migratory woodland birds, of which several species are in decline, spend the northern winter in Africa in open, often human-modified, landscapes where trees are well spaced.

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*Author for correspondence; e-mail: leozwarts@xs4all.nl
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