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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 406:291-303 (2010)  -  DOI:

Free as a bird? Activity patterns of albatrosses during the nonbreeding period

Elizabeth K. Mackley1,2,*, Richard A. Phillips1, Janet R. D. Silk1, Ewan D. Wakefield1, Vsevolod Afanasyev1, James W. Fox1, Robert W. Furness2

1British Antarctic Survey, Natural Environment Research Council, High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge CB3 0ET, UK
2Faculty of Biomedical and Life Sciences, Graham Kerr Building, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ, UK

ABSTRACT: This is the first comprehensive study of at-sea activity patterns of albatrosses during the nonbreeding period, based on data from combination geolocator–immersion loggers deployed on the wandering albatross Diomedea exulans, black-browed albatross Thalassarche melanophris, grey-headed albatross T. chrysostoma and light-mantled albatross Phoebetria palpebrata from South Georgia (54°00’S, 38°03’W). Differences in behaviour among species observed during the breeding season were maintained during the nonbreeding period, suggesting a high degree of foraging niche specialisation. Wandering albatrosses exhibited longer flight bouts, and spent more time on the water during daylight, than any of the smaller species. Light-mantled albatrosses were the most active nocturnally. During daylight, grey-headed albatrosses were the most aerial and black-browed albatrosses had the shortest flight bouts. Although all species still engaged in foraging behaviour predominantly during daylight, they spent a greater proportion of time on the water (presumably resting) during the nonbreeding period compared with the breeding period, suggesting that they could more readily meet their energy demands when no longer subject to central place constraints. There was no evidence from activity patterns that might suggest that wing feather moult handicaps flight capability during the nonbreeding period. Individuals of all species engaged in rapid east–west commutes, when considerably higher proportions of time were spent in flight than while resident, in particular during daylight, possibly because birds are unable to navigate effectively during complete darkness. Despite consistency in individual dispersal patterns, there were year-to-year differences in the nocturnal behaviour of black-browed albatrosses, probably attributable to prey variability.

KEY WORDS: Procellariiform · Seabird · Central place constraints · Commuting

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Cite this article as: Mackley EK, Phillips RA, Silk JRD, Wakefield ED, Afanasyev V, Fox JW, Furness RW (2010) Free as a bird? Activity patterns of albatrosses during the nonbreeding period. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 406:291-303.

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