Marine Biology

, Volume 151, Issue 2, pp 687–694 | Cite as

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

  • Stefan Garthe
  • William A. Montevecchi
  • Gilles Chapdelaine
  • Jean-Francois Rail
  • April Hedd
Research Article


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”.


Global Position System Forage Fish Adult Body Mass Global Position System Device Atlantic Mackerel 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This research is a joint German–Canadian collaboration with support from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and the Research and Technology Centre (FTZ) at Kiel University. We thank Rémi Plourdes and Roger St-Arneault from the Bonaventure Island Provincial Park for logistical support and assistance. Gerrit Peters from earth & Ocean Technologies (Kiel, Germany) provided very valuable technical support. Sven Adler performed the mixed-model analyses. The experiments performed comply with the current laws in Canada.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stefan Garthe
    • 1
  • William A. Montevecchi
    • 2
  • Gilles Chapdelaine
    • 3
  • Jean-Francois Rail
    • 3
  • April Hedd
    • 2
  1. 1.Research and Technology Centre (FTZ)University of KielBüsumGermany
  2. 2.Cognitive and Behavioural Ecology Program, Psychology DepartmentMemorial UniversitySt. John’sCanada
  3. 3.Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment CanadaSte-FoyCanada

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