Influence of age, kinship, and large-scale habitat quality on local foraging choices of Siberian jays

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Abstract

Animals face a constant conflict between gaining benefits and the risks associated with achieving them. In particular, the trade-off between gaining food and avoiding predation has been the subject of much attention. Here, I investigate the preferences for foraging sites in the group-living Siberian jay (Perisoreus infaustus), focusing on how energy intake is traded against proximity to cover. The main predator of this species relies primarily on visual cues to locate its prey, and thus, foraging in open habitat should be associated with higher exposure to a predator. Jays generally chose to feed in cover, a pattern that became stronger toward late winter. In particular, the strength of this preference varied with age, relatedness to other group members, and large-scale habitat quality. Adult territory holders and their retained offspring demonstrated similar preference for cover over seasons, a pattern not observed in nonrelated immigrants that showed no response to either forest structure or season. These results suggest that the benefits of parental nepotism enables retained offspring to take less risk, in regards to predators while foraging compared to similar-aged immigrants whose foraging options are constrained by social interference. Also, this study indicates that large-scale forest structure influences small-scale individual behavioral decisions.

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