Journal of Ornithology

, Volume 151, Issue 2, pp 459–467 | Cite as

GPS tracking devices reveal foraging strategies of Black-legged Kittiwakes

Original Article


The Black-legged Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla is the most abundant gull species in the world, but some populations have declined in recent years, apparently due to food shortage. Kittiwakes are surface feeders and thus can compensate for low food availability only by increasing their foraging range and/or devoting more time to foraging. The species is widely studied in many respects, but long-distance foraging and the limitations of conventional radio telemetry have kept its foraging behavior largely out of view. The development of Global Positioning System (GPS) loggers is advancing rapidly. With devices as small as 8 g now available, it is possible to use this technology for tracking relatively small species of oceanic birds like kittiwakes. Here we present the first results of GPS telemetry applied to Black-legged Kittiwakes in 2007 in the North Pacific. All but one individual foraged in the neritic zone north of the island. Three birds performed foraging trips only close to the colony (within 13 km), while six birds had foraging ranges averaging about 40 km. The maximum foraging range was 59 km, and the maximum distance traveled was 165 km. Maximum trip duration was 17 h (mean 8 h). An apparently bimodal distribution of foraging ranges affords new insight on the variable foraging behaviour of Black-legged Kittiwakes. Our successful deployment of GPS loggers on kittiwakes holds much promise for telemetry studies on many other bird species of similar size and provides an incentive for applying this new approach in future studies.


Black-legged Kittiwake Foraging Gulf of Alaska Rissa tridactyla Telemetry 



This project was funded by the German Science Foundation (DFG GA 617/5-1). We thank Hilger Lemke for major assistance with the field work and all others who helped us during the study on Middleton Island. Nele Markones, Philipp Schwemmer and four anonymous reviewers made useful comments on an earlier draft of the manuscript. Haglöfs® sponsored some of the equipment for this study. Our mention of trade names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government. The study was approved and carried out under Alaska State and US Federal Fish and Wildlife permits.


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Copyright information

© Dt. Ornithologen-Gesellschaft e.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Research and Technology Center Westcoast BüsumUniversity of KielBüsumGermany
  2. 2.U.S. Geological SurveyAlaska Science CenterAnchorageUSA

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