Foraging ecology and parental behaviour in the common tern (Sterna hirundo)
Burness, Gary P.
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One component of successful parenting is related to efficiency in foraging behaviour. The relationships among chick feeding, the size and type of food package, and length of parental foraging trips has not been well studied in seabirds. In addition, relatively few data have been collected on the activities of seabirds when foraging away from the nest site. The objectives of this study were: (1) to contrast productivity, feeding rate, and attendance patterns of individuals carrying a novel transmitter with a control group of birds; (2) to use radio-telemetry to assess the variability in foraging locations within and between individual male Common Terns; (3) to determine the seasonal variation in chick diet; (4) to determine for each transmittered bird, the relationships among the foraging patterns, parental behaviour, and seasonal reproductive success. The study took place over two years (1990-91) on a concrete breakwater 1 km offshore on Lake Erie near Port Colbome, Ontario. Ten pairs of terns in 1990 and 12 pairs in 1991 were radio-tracked by boat or car during the chick rearing stage. Concurrent behavioural observations documented the time each sex spent foraging or at the nest. The frequency and prey species composition of feeds to chicks were also recorded. The transmitters had negligible effects on the feeding frequency and brood attendance patterns of transmitter carrying birds. Peak nesting transmittered birds in 1990 and 1991 exhibited some inter-individual variability in foraging locations, however intraindividual variability was low. Birds foraged primarily to the west and northwest of the colony. Late nesters exhibited greater inter-individual variability, however intra-individual variability remained low for most birds. Neither group demonstrated sufficient variability to support the regular use of this colony as an "information centre". Individual transmittered birds had unique and predictable foraging patterns, and corresponding differences in feeding frequencies and brood attendance patterns, yet productivity was essentially equal between nests due to the impact and importance of stochastic events. Individuals that were recaptured in 1991 exhibited very similar foraging patterns to 1990, suggesting littie variability between years. Conservation of foraging patterns between years may have potential implications for mate choice decisions in future breeding seasons. Prey species delivered to chicks differed between morning and evening for peak and late nesters in 1990, but not 1991. Peak nesters in 1990 fed significantiy more Rainbow Smelt fOsmerus mordM) than Emerald Shiner (Notropis atherinoidesV this trend was reversed for late nesters who also fed large numbers of unidentified larval fish. No significant differences were found in 1991. Seasonal changes in prey species delivered to chicks is believed to be attributable to the temperature tolerances of the smelt and shiners, and the presence of large schools of larval fish during the late nesting season.