Return to the Isle of Puffins
GPS tracking of the foraging movements of Manx Shearwaters (Puffinus puffinus)
breeding on Skomer Island, Wales

Guilford, T.C, Meade, J., Freeman, R., Biro, D., Evans, T., Bonadonna, F., Boyle, D., Roberts, S. & Perrins, C.M. (2008) Ibis 150:462–473

We report the first successful use of miniature Global Positioning System loggers to track the ocean-going behaviour of a c. 400 g seabird, the Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus. Breeding birds were tracked over three field seasons during the incubation and chick-rearing periods on their foraging excursions from the large colony on Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, UK. Foraging effort was concentrated in the Irish Sea. Likely foraging areas were identified to the north, and more diffusely to the west of the colony. No foraging excursions were recorded significantly to the south of the colony, conflicting with the conclusions of earlier studies based on ringing recoveries and observations. We discuss several explanations including the hypothesis that foraging may have shifted substantially northwards in recent decades. We found no obvious relationship between birds’ positions and water depth, although there was a suggestion that observations at night were in shallower water than those during the day. We also found that, despite the fact that Shearwaters can be observed rafting off-shore from their colonies in the hours prior to making landfall at night, breeding birds are usually located much further from the colony in the last 8 h before arrival, a finding that has significance for the likely effectiveness of marine protection areas if they are only local to the colony. Short sequences of precise second-by-second fixes showed that movement speeds were bimodal, corresponding to sitting on the water (most common at night and around midday) and flying (most common in the morning and evening), with flight behaviour separable into erratic (indicative of searching for food) and directional (indicative of travelling). We also provide a first direct measurement of mean flight speed during directional flight (c. 40 km/h), slower than a Shearwater’s predicted maximum range velocity, suggesting that birds are exploiting wave or dynamic soaring during long-distance travel.

Keywords: climate change, navigation, procellariiform, satellite telemetry, seabird.


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