Research Article

Marine Biology

, Volume 151, Issue 2, pp 687-694

First online:

Contrasting foraging tactics by northern gannets (Sula bassana) breeding in different oceanographic domains with different prey fields

  • Stefan GartheAffiliated withResearch and Technology Centre (FTZ), University of Kiel Email author 
  • , William A. MontevecchiAffiliated withCognitive and Behavioural Ecology Program, Psychology Department, Memorial University
  • , Gilles ChapdelaineAffiliated withCanadian Wildlife Service, Environment Canada
  • , Jean-Francois RailAffiliated withCanadian Wildlife Service, Environment Canada
  • , April HeddAffiliated withCognitive and Behavioural Ecology Program, Psychology Department, Memorial University

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In order to forage and to provision offspring effectively, seabirds negotiate a complex of behavioural, energetic, environmental and social constraints. In first tests of GPS loggers with seabirds in North America, we investigated the foraging tactics of free-ranging northern gannets (Sula bassana) at a large and a medium-sized colony that differed in oceanography, coastal position and prey fields. Gannets at Low Arctic colony (Funk Island) 50 km off the northeast coast of Newfoundland, Canada provisioned chicks almost entirely with small forage fish (capelin Mallotus villosus, 89%), while at boreal colony (Bonaventure Island) 3 km from shore in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Quebec, Canada, large pelagic fish dominated parental prey loads (Atlantic mackerel Scomber scombrus 50%, Atlantic herring Clupea harengus 33%). Mean foraging range and the total distance travelled per foraging trip were significantly greater at the larger inshore colony (Bonaventure) than at the smaller offshore colony (Funk Island; 138 and 452 km vs. 64 and 196 km, respectively). Gannets from Funk Island consistently travelled inshore to forage on reproductive capelin shoals near the coast, whereas foraging flights of birds from Bonaventure were much more variable in direction and destination. Birds from the Low Arctic colony foraged in colder sea surface water than did birds from the boreal colony, and dive characteristics differed between colonies, which is concordent with the difference in prey base. Differences between the colonies reflect oceanographic and colony-size influences on prey fields that shape individual foraging tactics and in turn generate higher level colony-specific foraging “strategies”.