Winter segregation of migrant European Robins Erithacus rubecula in relation to sex, age and size

P Catry, A Campos, V Almada, Will Cresswell

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Birds often show some form of social segregation during winter, both at large geographical scales (a consequence of differential migration) and at the regional or local level, when comparing different habitats or micro-habitats. However, our understanding of the mechanisms underlying such patterns is still poor. These issues have been rarely investigated in migratory Old-World passerines, particularly with respect to differences between the sexes. In this study, we show that female European robins Erithacus rubecula (sexed by molecular techniques) greatly outnumber males in southern Iberia, which confirms that this species is a differential migrant with a strong latitudinal segregation of the sexes. Furthermore, sex, age and body size influence the habitat distribution of robins in winter. Subordinate birds (females, juveniles and small individuals) were generally more common in habitats with a greater shrub development, and comparatively scarce in woodlands with relatively little undergrowth. Birds wintering in woodlands were in better condition (assessed by breast-muscle scoring) than birds wintering in shrubland. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that proposes that social dominance, mediated by differences in size and experience, is important in determining the habitat segregation of sex and age classes. The alternative hypothesis (habitat specialization), although not specifically supported by our findings, cannot be ruled out on the basis of the available evidence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)204-209
JournalJournal of Avian Biology
Publication statusPublished - 2004


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