Birds of a feather don’t always flock together: Peer into a forest canopy, and you will likely spot multiple bird species flying and feeding together, a phenomenon most spectacular in the Amazon where 50 species may travel as a unit. But are birds in these mixed flocks cooperating with one another or competing?
A new study suggests both.
In an analysis of nearly 100 North Florida flocks, Florida Museum of Natural History researchers found similar bird species were significantly more likely to flock together than hunt alone, working as a group to stay safe from predators while cruising the canopy in search of insects. Species kept competition within the flock low, however, by differentiating their foraging technique, their choice of hunting spot or the general distance they kept from a tree trunk.
In other words, think of flock dynamics like a K-pop band, said study lead author Harrison Jones. MORE
Header image: Species that pick insects off live leaves and nab them in the air – the most common foraging techniques – are relatively abundant in Florida;s mixed flocks. One example is the blue-gray gnatcatcher, Polioptila caerulea. Credit: Mitchell Walters.