Bird Bullies

Regular supplies of food for scavenger birds in Spain may not be the most effective conservation strategy, as smaller birds are bullied away.

Jef Akst
Jef Akst
May 31, 2013

EDITOR'S CHOICE IN ECOLOGY

DIVERSITY BUSTERS: Griffon vultures (Gyps fulvus) dominate established feeding stations, keeping out less aggressive scavenger birds.© STEVEN RUITER/FOTO NATURA/MINDEN PICTURES/CORBIS

The paper
A. Cortés-Avizanda et al., “Resource unpredictability promotes species diversity and coexistence in an avian scavenger guild: a field experiment,” Ecology, 93:2570-79, 2012.

The natural experiment
Since the early 1970s, conservationists in northern Spain have encouraged farmers and hunters to dispose of animal carcasses at what have come to be known as “vulture restaurants” to buffer against the decline of scavenging birds in the area. But while some species have begun to rebound, many are still endangered, prompting Ainara Cortés-Avizanda of the Estación Biológica de Doñana (EBD-CSIC) in Seville and her colleagues to investigate the effectiveness of this conservation effort.

The bullies
The researchers placed 58 carcasses around the study site—either at established vulture restaurants, where birds routinely waited for food,...