Emu Emu Society
Journal of BirdLife Australia

Foraging ecology of ground-feeding woodland birds in temperate woodlands of southern Australia

Mark J. Antos A B and Andrew F. Bennett A

A Landscape Ecology Research Group, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, 221 Burwood Highway, Burwood, Vic. 3125, Australia.

B Corresponding author. Present address: Birds Australia, 415 Riversdale Road, Hawthorn East, Vic. 3123, Australia. Email: antos@deakin.edu.au orm.antos@birdsaustralia.com.au

Emu 106(1) 29-40 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/MU05039
Submitted: 3 August 2005  Accepted: 2 December 2005   Published: 10 March 2006


Ground-foraging birds of temperate woodlands of southern Australia are prominent among bird species considered to be susceptible to population decline. We examined the foraging ecology, including foraging substrates, actions and heights, of 13 ground-foraging species at four woodland sites in northern Victoria. Nine species are regarded as declining in southern Australia and four are considered common. Ten foraging substrates were identified, of which leaf-litter (54% of observations) and bare ground (17%) were most frequently used. In all woodland sites, litter was used more frequently than expected from its proportional cover. Bare ground was frequently used as a substrate by individual species, and fallen timber and grass were important for some species. Most species were generalists in their use of substrates. Six foraging actions were observed, of which gleaning and pouncing were most frequently recorded. All species foraged close to the ground and four foraged almost entirely at ground level. For pouncing birds, dead branches and fallen timber were the most important launch substrates from which pouncing actions were initiated. Eight of the 13 species differed in some aspect of their foraging ecology between woodland sites, especially in relation to the use of substrates (seven species). Fewer species (four) displayed differences in foraging ecology between seasons, with the greatest seasonal variation being in use of foraging substrates (three species). Overall, no significant differences were evident in the foraging ecologies of common and declining species. Species in both groups encompassed a wide range of foraging behaviours. Owing to this range in foraging ecology, the conservation of diverse assemblages of ground-foraging birds requires the maintenance of heterogeneous ground layers and careful management of disturbance processes.


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