Monitoring human disturbance: Factors affecting escape behaviour of waterbirds in North African wetlands

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John Wiley & Sons Ltd
nderstanding the factors affecting escape behaviour in waterbirds can be useful in the management of human disturbances. A common measure of escape response is flight initiation distance (FID), the distance at which an approaching intruder disturbs an individual bird enough to make it move away. Here, we analyse the escape behaviour of a set of waterbirds for the first time within a North African context. We tested (one- way ANOVA and general linear model) how FID varied with the area where waterbirds were temporal scale, distance at which the observer start approaching to the sampled birds, body size, flock size, species composition of the flock and foraging activity of the sampled birds. We collected 866 individual FIDs for 19 waterbird species wintering at two north Algerian wetlands (the Mekhada marsh, RAMSAR site, El- taref District and the Sebkhet El- Mahmel, unprotected wetland, Khenchela District). The obtained FIDs ranged from 32.6 m in smaller species as the Kentish plover Charadrius alexandrines to 167 m in larger ones as the ruddy shelduck Tadorna ferruginea. The obtained models stated that differences in the absolute levels of FIDs were mostly related to starting distance (Effect size = 0.62), to which is added a relatively little effect of wetland status, taxonomic differences, temporal scale, body size, flock size, species composition of the flock and bird activity. More specifically, FID was lower in smaller and homospecific groups at early winter in the protected wetland. Reserve managers in North Africa could use species and context- specific FIDs in delineating appropriate buffer areas and in the design of management initiatives aimed at minimising eventual potential threat due to human disturbance and guaranteeing animal welfare and wildlife.