Natural Resources, School of


Date of this Version



Published in Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 131:1–2 (May 2009), pp. 9-15; doi 10.1016/j.agee.2008.08.015; Special Issue — Temperate agroforestry: When trees and crops get together. Copyright © 2008 Elsevier B.V. Used by permission.


As natural predators of pest insects, woodland birds provide biological pest suppression in crop fields adjacent to woody edges. Although many birds using these habitats forage widely, earlier studies have found that most foraging activity occurs within 50 m of the woody edge. The goals of this study were to determine the primary area of use, or functional edge, for birds foraging in crop fields adjacent to woody edges, and to evaluate their foraging distance patterns. During the summers of 2005 and 2006, avian foraging behavior was observed at 12 research sites in east central Nebraska that contained either a shelterbelt or woody riparian edge. At each site, perches were provided at 10 m intervals out from the edge and insect larvae were placed in feeders at random locations to simulate a pest insect food resource. Birds were recorded foraging in five distance categories out from the edge (0–10, 10–20, 20–30, 30–40, and 40–50 m). Seven species foraged primarily within 20 m of the edge (72% all observations; 79% without perch or feeder observations). Ten species foraged throughout the plots but six of these generally foraged more often (45% and 49%) and four less often (30% and 30%) within 20 m of the edge. The 13 species that tended to forage more often within 20 m of the edge, with 56% of their foraging overall in this area, also tended to forage farther when perch and feeder observations were included, indicating willingness to forage farther when food resources were available. Based on a repeated measures analysis of variance, foraging distances appeared to be greater at sites with soybean as the planted crop, although this apparent trend was significant for only some species. There was no clear difference in foraging distances outward from shelterbelt versus riparian sites. These results indicate that conservation efforts within the 20 m functional edge offer potential to enhance the sustainability of both birds and crops in agricultural.