Emu Emu Society
Journal of BirdLife Australia

Where exactly do ground-foraging woodland birds forage? Foraging sites and microhabitat selection in temperate woodlands of southern Australia

Mark J. Antos A B , Andrew F. Bennett A and John G. White A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

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

B Present address: Research Branch, Parks Victoria, Level 10, 535 Bourke Street, Melbourne, Vic. 3000, Australia. Email: mantos@parks.vic.gov.au

Emu 108(3) 201-211 https://doi.org/10.1071/MU08005
Submitted: 7 February 2008  Accepted: 28 May 2008   Published: 8 August 2008


Bird assemblages in woodlands of southern Australia are characterised by a high proportion of ground-foraging species, many of which are experiencing population declines. We examined the foraging sites of 13 species of ground-foraging birds, including four common species and nine declining species, in four study areas representing different woodland types. Microhabitat features were recorded within a 3-m radius of observed foraging points and compared with random points. Significant differences between foraging and random plots were detected for all but one species, clearly indicating selection for foraging habitat. However, levels of dissimilarity between foraging and random plots were low, suggesting that much of the woodland study area is suitable for foraging. Microhabitat features of particular importance for multiple species were a low density of trees and shrubs, a high cover of native herbs, and fallen timber on the ground. Sites amidst dense trees tended not to be used. Several species had more particular requirements, such as the Diamond Firetail (Stagonopleura guttata) for grass cover and the White-winged Chough (Corcorax melanorhamphos) for litter cover. There was no evidence that declining species showed a greater degree of selection or were more restricted in the availability of foraging microhabitats than common species. Several of the key attributes of preferred foraging sites, such as tree density, can be actively managed at the local scale. A heterogeneous ground layer is needed to provide suitable foraging habitat for the full suite of ground-foraging birds. Achieving suitable heterogeneity in present-day woodlands will require careful and active management of various disturbance processes.


Logistical and financial support for this research were provided by the School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University. We are also grateful for financial support provided by the Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment, the Birds Australia Stuart Leslie Research Fund and Birds Australia’s Vicgroup Research Fund. We thank several anonymous referees for comments that helped clarify aspects of the manuscript.


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