Action: Provide supplementary food for waders to increase adult survival
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A study in Northern Ireland found that waders fed on millet seed when provided, but were dominated by mallards Anas platyrhynchos when larger seeds were provided.
Well-fed animals are likely to be in better physical condition than those with too little food: having greater muscle mass and larger fat supplies to help them survive lean periods. However, it is worth noting that species that forage in groups can have dominance hierarchies, which alter the relationship between weight and fitness. For example Gentle and Gosler (2001) found that, amongst great tits Parus major in Oxfordshire, England, more dominant birds had a lower mass than subdominants, particularly when perceived predation risk was high. Birds with lower masses are better able to take off and therefore escape predators than heavier birds (Krams 2002). However, because of their dominance, they were able to usurp other birds from food resources when hungry. Care should therefore be taken when interpreting results which do not directly examine survival.
Krams, I. (2002) Mass-dependent take-off ability in wintering great tits (Parus major): comparison of top-ranked adult males and subordinate juvenile females. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 51, 345–349.
Gentle, L.K. & Gosler, A.G. (2001) Fat reserves and perceived predation risk in the great tit, Parus major. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences, 268, 487.
Supporting evidence from individual studies
A study at a wetland reserve in Northern Ireland (McGeehan 2005) found that black-tailed godwits Limosa limosa and northern lapwing Vanellus vanellus fed on millet seeds provided near a viewing area. Feeding was only possible, however, after a switch from ‘Wildbird Mix’ seed – which was eaten by mallards Anas platyrhynchos that then dominated other feeders and chased them off. The reaction of wildfowl to feeding is discussed in ‘Provide supplementary food to increase adult survival – Wildfowl’.