Laboratory and field experiments have shown that, as predicted by the marginal value model, starlings, Sturnus vulgaris, stay longer in a food patch when the average travel time between patches is long. A laboratory analogue of a patchy environment was used to investigate how starlings respond to rapidly fluctuating changes in travel time in order to find out the length of experience over which information is integrated. When there was a progressive increase in the amount of work required to obtain successive food items in a patch (experiment 1), birds consistently took more prey after long than after short travel times; travel experience before the most recent had no effect on the number of prey taken. Such behaviour does not maximize the rate of energy intake in this environment. The possibility that this is the result of a simple constraint on crop capacity is rejected as, when successive prey were equally easy to obtain up until a stepwise depletion of the patch (experiment 2), birds took equal numbers of prey per visit after long and short travel times: the rate-maximizing behaviour. A series of models are developed to suggest the possible constraints on optimal behaviour that affect starlings in the type of environment mimicked by experiment 1.
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