Territory fidelity, reproductive success and prey choice in the brown falcon, Falco berigora: A flexible bet-hedger?

Paul G. McDonald*, Penny D. Olsen, David J. Baker-Gabb

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The brown falcon, Falco berigora, is one of Australia's most common and widespread raptors, inhabiting a broad array of habitats and most climatic zones across Australia. We monitored a large, marked population (44-49 pairs) over three annual breeding seasons in southern Victoria. Reproductive parameters such as clutch size and the duration of parental care were constant across years. However, there were marked differences in brood size and the proportion of pairs breeding. Both sexes of falcons were found to have high territory and mate fidelity, with only 10% of members of each sex changing territories during the study. Falcons were flexible in their choice of nest sites, using a variety of tree species and even isolated nest trees. Nest sites and territories were regularly distributed throughout the study area, with the density of the population the highest on record for this species. The diet of the population as a whole was very broad, but each pair predominantly specialised on either lagomorphs, small ground prey, small birds, large birds or reptiles. Individuals that changed territory within the study area also switched their diet according to the predominant land-use within the new territory and thus prey availability. We argue that, at the population level, broad dietary breadth, flexibility in choice of nest site, and a conservative, static breeding strategy allows the species to persist in a broad range of environments, possibly through 'bet-hedging'. At the individual level, changeable dietary specialisation, high territory fidelity, strong year-round territorial defence, confining breeding to years when individual conditions were favourable and adjusting brood sizes when required appear to be the main strategies enabling brown falcons to thrive under a variety of conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)399-414
Number of pages16
JournalAustralian Journal of Zoology
Volume51
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2003

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