Studies of the flocking behaviour of Sanderlings, Calidris alba
The behaviour of sanderlings, Calidris alba, was studied at Teesmouth, N. E. England. Flock sizes and within-flock spacing were related to factors such as substrate type, season, and prey distribution. Sightings of individually-identifiable colour-ringed birds showed that turnover was high. Individuals varied in their vagility and in the way in which they allocated their time between feeding sites. There was a high degree of consistency between winters in the distributions of individual birds. When individual sighting frequencies were taken into account, associations between individual sanderlings, in terms of both flock membership and of occurrences at the same sites on the same days, were non-significantly different from those expected by chance. Previously used methods for detecting non-random associations gave inadequate null models. Each individual appeared to make a decision about where to feed independently of the decisions made by any other particular individuals .A number of aspects of the dynamics of flocks were examined, including flock cohesion; how flocks built up and broke down; whether birds tended to move to the largest or smallest, the nearest or furthest flocks; the effects of disturbance on flock dynamics; and the relationship between group size and the distance flown between flocks. The responses of sanderlings to experimental disturbances tended to support the hypothesis that responses should be varied according to the costs and benefits of different courses of action rather than the hypothesis that birds should take flight as soon as a predator is sighted. Birds often break off from performing an activity in order to raise their heads (scan). Preening birds had shorter inter-scan intervals than feeding birds. Flock size and spacing explained only a small proportion of the variance in vigilance. Vigilance was greater in autumn than in winter. There was some evidence for both feeding and preening birds avoiding very short inter-scan intervals but not for the avoidance of long intervals. Sequences of inter-scan interval durations of preening birds were non-random.