How do mixed bird flocks find their food?

A new study published in the journal Ibis suggests that diversity in foraging strategy and cooperation among participants in mixed bird flocks can improve their foraging efficiency, which has important implications for understanding how collaboration occurs in nature and, consequently, for taking better conservation measures for bird species and their habitats.

Carpintero Oliva Yungueño / Dot-fronted Woodpecker / Dryobates frontalis / Foto: Mangini G.G.
Pitiayumi /Tropical Parula / Setophaga pitiayumi / Foto: Mangini G.G.

Mixed bird flocks are associations of different bird species, from insectivorous to frugivorous-insectivorous species, each with different ecological requirements. Some species direct the movement of the mixed flock and are known as leaders, such as the "Tropical Parula". In contrast, others always follow the leader species (e.g.,"Dot-fronted Woodpecker"). By participating in mixed flocks, the birds can increase their foraging efficiency, but... do they all do so equally? That's what they wondered about in this recently published paper. Foliage insectivores benefit more than bark insectivores, while leader species benefited the most in foraging efficiency compared to follower species. This study highlights the importance of cooperation and coordination in nature, which may have broader implications for understanding the evolution and ecology of life on Earth.

The complete publication of the study can be found at: Mangini G.G., Gandoy F, Areta JI, Blendinger PG. 2023. The role and foraging strategy of mixed-species flocks’ members impacts their foraging efficiency. Ibis."