The use of social cues in habitat selection by Wetland birds

Michael P. Ward, Thomas J. Benson, Brad Semel, James R. Herkert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Wetlands are dynamic and can be destroyed and created quickly by natural forces. Therefore, birds inhabiting these wetlands may need to locate new suitable sites quickly. We investigated the cues wetland birds use when selecting a breeding site. Many species may use both habitat (e.g., vegetation structure) and social cues (presence of conspecifics and/or heterospecifics) when selecting a location for breeding. Using a two-species occupancymodeling approach, we found certain wetland birds more likely to occur with other species, suggesting the presence of heterospecifics may influence settlement. Species that preferred wetlands with a roughly 50:50 ratio of open water to vegetation (hemi-marsh) occurred more frequently than expected with the Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps), suggesting these species may use the presence of grebes when selecting a habitat. Conversely, Yellow-headed Blackbirds (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus) do not appear to use the presence of other species when selecting a breeding location. Previous research supports this finding, in that the number of young produced at a site the previous year (patch reproductive success) was important in how this species selected its breeding sites. Because settling on the basis of patch reproductive success requires occupancy or visiting a site the previous year, individuals new to a population must use other cues such as habitat. In this population inexperienced Yellow-headed Blackbirds were more prone than experienced individuals to colonize recently created wetlands. Several wetland species we investigated used social cues to select breeding sites, and this behavior may help explain the occurrence and distribution of wetland birds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)245-251
Number of pages7
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 1 2010


  • Colonization
  • Conspecific attraction
  • Heterospecific attraction
  • Wetland-dependent birds
  • Wetlands

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology

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