Background: When facing a novel situation, animals can retreat or leave to avoid risks, but will miss potential resources and opportunities. Alternatively they may reduce environmental uncertainty by exploration, while risking no energy rewards and exposure to hazards, and use the information retrieved for subsequent decision making. When exploring, however, animals may adopt different tactics according to individual states. Results: We tested that energy states will affect exploratory behavior by experimenting with wild-caught untrained Eurasian tree sparrows (Passer montanus) in fasted or fed states exploring in a novel space with hidden food supply in different patch distribution patterns. Our data revealed that fasted sparrows risked being earlier explorers more often, initiated more exploratory bouts before patches were found, and stayed longer on the ground under both patch patterns. Fasted sparrows discovered more patches and consumed more food than fed sparrows in dispersed, but not necessary so in clumped, patch patterns; whereas fed birds also increased patch finding to a certain level in dispersed patterns. Sparrows of both energy states, however, did not differ in feeding rates in either patch pattern. Conclusions: Exploratory behavior of tree sparrows is state-dependent, which supports our prediction that birds with an energy shortage will be risk-prone and explore more readily. Our study also indicates a game nature of tree sparrow exploratory behavior in a group context when explorers are in different energy states and are exposed to different patch distributions. Birds of lower energy state adopting an active exploring tactic may be favored by obtaining higher energy gains in dispersed patch patterns with lower patch richness. More satiated birds, however, achieved a similar feeding rate by lowered exposure time.
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