Marine Biology

, Volume 157, Issue 9, pp 2043–2050 | Cite as

Inter-annual changes in diet and foraging trip lengths in a small pelagic seabird, the thin-billed prion Pachyptila belcheri

  • Petra QuillfeldtEmail author
  • Andreas Michalik
  • Gritta Veit-Köhler
  • Ian J. Strange
  • Juan F. Masello
Original Paper


Central place foragers are constrained in their foraging distribution by the necessity to return to their nest site at regular intervals. In many petrels that feed on patchily distributed prey from the sea surface over large foraging areas, alternating long and short foraging trips are used to balance the demands of the chick with the requirements of maintaining adult body condition. When the local conditions are favourable for prey density and quality, adults should be able to reduce the number of long foraging trips. We studied the flexibility in foraging trip lengths of a small pelagic petrel, the thin-billed prion Pachyptila belcheri, over three breeding seasons with increasingly favourable, cold-water conditions. During a warm-water influx in February 2006, chicks were fed less frequently and adults carried out foraging trips of up to 8 days. When conditions became more favourable with colder water temperatures in 2007 and 2008, thin-billed prions decreased trip lengths, more often attended their chick every day, and long foraging trips of six to eight days were not registered during 2008. Chick growth rates mirrored this, as chicks grew poorly during 2006, intermediate during 2007 and best during 2008. Thin-billed prions preyed mainly on squid during incubation and mainly on amphipods and euphausiids during chick-rearing. In the poorest season only, the diet was substantially supplemented with very small copepods. Together, the present results indicate that during warm-water conditions, thin-billed prions had difficulties in finding sufficient squid, amphipods or euphausiids and were forced to switch to lower trophic level prey, which they had to search for over large ocean areas.


Falkland Island Chick Growth Kerguelen Island Main Food Item Chick Growth Rate 
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.



The New Island Conservation Trust, Maria and Georgina Strange and Dan Birch facilitated fieldwork at New Island, which was approved and co-funded by the Falkland Islands Government (Environmental Planning Office). We are grateful for taxonomic determinations: Oliver Coleman (Amphipoda), Jens Hoeg and Benny Chan (Cirripedia), Knud Schulz and Jasmin Renz (Copepoda), Enrique Macpherson (Munida) and Volker Siegel (Euphausiacea). Two anonymous referees provided helpful comments on the manuscript. This study was funded by a grant provided by the German Science Foundation DFG (Qu 148/1ff.).


  1. Acha EM, Mianzan HW, Guerrero RA, Favero M, Bava J (2004) Marine fronts at the continental shelves of austral South America: physical and ecological processes. J Mar Syst 44:83–105CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Atkinson A, Ward P, Williams R, Poulet SA (1992a) Diel vertical migration and feeding of copepods at an oceanic site near South Georgia. Mar Biol 113:583–593CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Atkinson A, Ward P, Williams R, Poulet SA (1992b) Feeding rates and diel vertical migration of copepods near South Georgia: comparison of shelf and oceanic sites. Mar Biol 114:49–56Google Scholar
  4. Catard A, Weimerskirch H, Cherel Y (2000) Exploitation of distant Antarctic waters and close shelf-break waters by white-chinned petrels rearing chicks. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 194:249–261CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Chastel O, Bried J (1996) Diving ability of blue petrels and thin-billed prions. Condor 98:627–629CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chaurand T, Weimerskirch H (1994) The regular alternation of short and long foraging trips in blue petrel Halobaena caerulea: a previously undescribed strategy of food provisioning in a pelagic seabird. J Anim Ecol 63:275–282CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cherel Y, Bocher P, De Broyer C, Hobson KA (2002) Food and feeding ecology of the sympatric Thin-billed Pachyptila belcheri and Antarctic P. desolata prions at Iles Kerguelen, Southern Indian Ocean. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 228:263–281CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Clark GS, Goodwin AJ, von Meyer AP (1984) Extension of the known range of some seabirds on the coast of southern Chile. Notornis 31:324Google Scholar
  9. Congdon BC, Krockenberger AK, Smithers BV (2005) Dual-foraging and co-ordinated provisioning in a tropical Procellariiform, the Wedge-tailed shearwater. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 301:293–301CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cox JB (1980) Some remarks on the breeding distribution and taxonomy of the prions (Procellariidae: Pachyptila). J Southern Austral Mus 18:91–121Google Scholar
  11. Duriez O, Weimerskirch H, Fritz H (2000) Regulation of chick provisioning in the Thin-billed prion: an interannual comparison and manipulation of parents. Can J Zool 78:1275–1283CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Furness RW (1996) A review of seabird responses to natural and fisheries-induced changes in food supply. In: Greenstreet SPR, Tasker ML (eds) Aquatic predators and their prey. Fishing News Books, Blackwell Science Ltd., Oxford, pp 166–173Google Scholar
  13. Harper PC (1972) The field identification and distribution of the Thin-billed prion (Pachyptila belcheri) and the Antarctic prion (Pachyptila desolata). Notornis 19:140–175Google Scholar
  14. Harper PC (1987) Feeding behaviour and other notes on 20 species of Procellariiformes at sea. Notornis 34:169–192Google Scholar
  15. Kane JE (1966) The distribution of Parathemisto gaudichaudii (Guer), with observations on its life-history in the 0° to 20° sector of the Southern Ocean. Discov Rep 34:163–198Google Scholar
  16. Klages NTW, Cooper J (1992) Bill morphology and diet of a filter-feeding seabird: the Broad-billed Prion Pachyptila vittata at South Atlantic Gough Island. J Zool 227:385–396CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Magalhaes MC, Santos RS, Hamer KC (2008) Dual-foraging of Cory’s shearwaters in the Azores: feeding locations, behaviour at sea and implications for food provisioning of chicks. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 359:283–293CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Pennycuick CJ (1982) The flight of petrels and albatrosses (Procellariiformes), observed in South Georgia and its vicinity. Phil Trans R Soc Lond B 300:75–106CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Pinaud D, Cherel Y, Weimerskirch H (2005) Effect of environmental variability on habitat selection, diet, provisioning behaviour and chick growth in yellow-nosed albatrosses. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 298:295–304CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Quillfeldt P, Masello JF, Strange IJ (2003) Breeding biology of the Thin-billed prion Pachyptila belcheri at New Island, Falkland Islands, in the poor season 2002/2003: egg desertion, breeding success and chick provisioning. Polar Biol 26:746–752CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Quillfeldt P, Masello JF, Strange IJ, Buchanan KL (2006) Begging and provisioning of Thin-billed prions Pachyptila belcheri is related to testosterone and corticosterone. Anim Behav 71:1359–1369CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Quillfeldt P, Strange IJ, Masello JF (2007a) Sea surface temperatures and behavioural buffering capacity in thin-billed prions Pachyptila belcheri: breeding success, provisioning and chick begging. J Avian Biol 38:298–308Google Scholar
  23. Quillfeldt P, Strange IJ, Segelbacher G, Masello JF (2007b) Male and female contributions to provisioning rates of thin-billed prions Pachyptila belcheri in the South Atlantic. J Orn 148:367–372CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Quillfeldt P, McGill R, Strange IJ, Masello JF, Weiss F, Brickle P, Furness RW (2008) Stable isotope analysis reveals sexual and environmental variability and individual consistency in foraging of Thin-billed prions. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 373:137–148CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Quillfeldt P, McGill R, Masello JF, Poisbleau M, van Noordwijk H, Demongin L, Furness RW (2009) Differences in the stable isotope signatures of seabird egg membrane and albumen—implications for non-invasive studies. Rapid Commun Mass Spectrom 23:3632–3636CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Reid K, Croxall JP, Edwards TM (1997) Interannual variation in the diet of the Antarctic Prion Pachyptila desolata at South Georgia. Emu 97:126–132CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Rodhouse PG, Symon C, Hatfield EMC (1992) Early life cycle of cephalopods in relation to the major oceanographic features of the southwest Atlantic Ocean. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 89:183–195CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Strange IJ (1980) The thin-billed prion, Pachyptila belcheri, at New Island, Falkland Islands. Gerfaut 70:411–445Google Scholar
  29. Thompson KR (1989) An assessment of the potential for competition between seabirds and fisheries in the Falkland Islands. Brighton, Falkland Islands Foundation. Falkland Islands Foundation Project ReportGoogle Scholar
  30. Thompson KR (1994) Predation on Gonatus antarcticus by Falkland Islands seabirds. Antarct Sci 6:269–274CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Waugh SM, Weimerskirch H, Cherel Y, Prince PA (2000) Contrasting strategies of provisioning and chick growth in two sympatrically breeding albatrosses at Campbell Island, New Zealand. Condor 102:804–813CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Weimerskirch H, Cherel Y (1998) Feeding ecology of short-tailed shearwaters: breeding in Tasmania and foraging in the Antarctic? Mar Ecol Prog Ser 167:261–274CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Weimerskirch H, Chastel O, Ackermann L (1995) Adjustment of parental effort to manipulated foraging ability in a pelagic seabird, the thin-billed prion Pachyptila belcheri. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 36:11–16CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Weimerskirch H, Fradet G, Cherel Y (1999) Natural and experimental changes in chick provisioning in a long-lived seabird, the Antarctic Prion. J Avian Biol 30:165–174CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Williams R, Robins D (1979) Calorific, ash, carbon and nitrogen content in relation to length and dry weight of Parathemisto gaudichaudi (Amphipoda, Hyperiidea) in the northeast Atlantic Ocean. Mar Biol 52:247–252CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Williams R, Robins D (1981) Seasonal variability in abundance and vertical distribution of Parsthemisto gaudichaudii (Amphipoda: Hyperiidea) in the North East Atlantic Ocean. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 4:289–298CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Petra Quillfeldt
    • 1
    Email author
  • Andreas Michalik
    • 1
    • 2
  • Gritta Veit-Köhler
    • 3
  • Ian J. Strange
    • 4
  • Juan F. Masello
    • 1
  1. 1.Max-Planck-Institut für Ornithologie, Vogelwarte RadolfzellRadolfzellGermany
  2. 2.Department of Biology/Chemistry, Experimental Ecology GroupUniversity of OsnabrückOsnabrückGermany
  3. 3.Deutsches Zentrum für Marine Biodiversitätsforschung, Forschungsinstitut SenckenbergWilhelmshavenGermany
  4. 4.New Island Conservation TrustStanleyFalkland Islands

Personalised recommendations