Winter flocking behaviour of speckled warblers and the Allee effect

Janet L. Gardner*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    24 Citations (Scopus)


    The aggregation of individuals into foraging flocks is one behavioural trait that, if disrupted, can cause the Allee effect, which is a slowing in population growth at low density or small population size, and this can greatly increase the risk of extinction. Here, I describe intraspecific flocking behaviour of a colour-banded population of speckled warblers, Chthonicola sagittata, a species that has declined across a large part of its range in the fragmented temperate woodlands of Australia. I make predictions about the context in which the Allee effect might be expressed and the consequences for the viability of populations living in small habitat remnants. Speckled warblers lived in discrete, stable social groups throughout winter, the nucleus of which was the residents from one or more adjacent breeding territories. The timing and mode of flock formation and the size of flocks varied between two winters, apparently in response to the severity of conditions; thus flocking probably facilitates increased foraging efficiency and predator detection, potentially leading to increased survival in harsh conditions. Because flock territories were up to 30 ha each, and larger territories are likely, birds living in remnants smaller than 40 ha may suffer increased mortality if there are too few birds available to form flocks of an appropriate size to facilitate the benefits of grouping when conditions are most extreme. Further, in small remnants where survival is reduced, dominance behaviour and male-male competition may act to compound the Allee effect by reducing reproductive success. Regardless of these predictions, speckled warbler populations may only be viable in remnants that are large enough to support multiple flocks, to enable rapid recruitment to breeding vacancies and thus provide adequate numbers of birds for flocking.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)195-204
    Number of pages10
    JournalBiological Conservation
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Jul 2004


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