Understanding the consequences of hurricanes on the food resources available to neotropical-nearctic migrant songbirds may provide important insight into the effects of hurricanes on migratory populations. During autumn migration 2006 we investigated the foraging ecology of two species of insectivorous migrants, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea) and Yellow Warbler (Dendroica petechia), and the availability of their foraging substrates and arthropod food resources in two coastal forests in western Louisiana, which were impacted to different degrees by Hurricane Rita in autumn 2005. Both migrant species attacked prey on bark substrates significantly more frequently, and on live foliage less frequently, in severely damaged forest than in lightly damaged forest (χ2 tests, P < 0.05). However, both species attacked prey on bark less than expected given its availability (i.e., migrants avoided bark), and attacked prey on live foliage more than expected given its availability (i.e., migrants selected live foliage), in severely damaged forest (χ2 tests, P < 0.03). Branch-clipping revealed that arthropod biomass on live hackberry (Celtis laevigata) and sweet acacia (Acacia farnesiana) branches was significantly higher in severely damaged forest than in lightly damaged forest (Mann-Whitney test, P < 0.01). However, because live foliage was significantly less available in severely damaged forest, overall food availability for migrants was lower in severely damaged forest than in lightly damaged forest. Migrant use of, and arthropod biomass on, bark and live-foliage substrates were thus dependent on the availability of those substrates, which differed between sites as a result of hurricane-related habitat disturbance. These results demonstrate that severe hurricane disturbance reduces food availability for insectivorous songbirds during migratory stopover by reducing the availability of preferred foraging substrates.
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Vol. 29 • No. 1