Foraging ecology and parental care of common terns (Sterna hirundo) nesting in Windermere Basin, Lake Ontario
Moore, David Joseph.
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The relationships among chick feeding, size and type of prey item, and foraging time away from the brood have not been well studied in seabirds. This study investigated spatial and temporal patterns of foraging and chick-provisioning among 23 radio-tagged male common terns nesting at Hamilton Harbour, Lake Ontario during 1991 and 1992. Telemetry data were collected concurrently with behavioural observations from an elevated blind. Terns fitted with transmitters did not differ from controls with respect to either brood attendance, patterns of chick mortality, species and size distributions of prey delivered to offspring, or chick-provisioning rates. There was a clear separation of parental roles: males were primarily responsible for feeding chicks while females allocated more time to brood attendance. The prey species most commonly delivered to chicks by adults were rainbow smelt (Osmerus mordax) and alewife (A/osa pseudoharengus), followed in importance by larval fish, emerald shiner (Notropis antherinoides), salmonids, and fathead minnows (Pimepha/es prome/as). The relative proportions of various fish speCies delivered to chicks by males differed over the course of each breeding season, and there was also much variability in species composition of prey between years. Sizes of prey delivered to chicks also differed between sampling periods. The modal size of fish brought to chicks during Peak 1991 was 1.5 bill lengths, while the majority of prey in Late 1991 were small larval fish. The reverse trend occurred in 1992 when small fish were delivered to chicks predominantly during the Peak nesting period. During periods when predominantly small fish were delivered to chicks, the foraging activity of radio-tagged males was concentrated within a two kilometer radius of the colony. The observed variation in prey composition and foraging locations during the study likely reflects temporal variation in the availability of prey in the vicinity of the colony. Males delivered fish to chicks at a constant rate, while females 4 increased their feeding frequency over the first six to ten brood days. The mean length of fish delivered to chicks by adults increased significantly with increasing chick age. As a group, within each nesting period, transmittered males either foraged predominantly in the same directional bearing (north during Peak 1991, south during Late 1992), or concentrated foraging activity in the immediate vicinity of the colony (Late 1991, Peak 1992). However, individual radio-tagged males exhibited unique and predictable foraging patterns, often favouring specific locations within these areas and differing in their secondary foraging patterns. Overall, the Lake Ontario shoreline between NCB Bay" (3.5 km south of colony) and the lift bridge canal (4 km north of colony) was the foraging area used most frequently by radiotagged males during the chick-rearing period. Foraging patterns of transmittered males at Windermere Basin are similar to patterns of peak-nesting common terns, but differ from those of late-nesters, at a nearby colony (Port Colborne, Lake Erie). Differences between the foraging patterns of late-nesting terns at these colonies likely reflect differences in annual patterns of fish availability between the two locations. No relationship was found between foraging proficiency of adults and survival of offspring. Stochastic factors, such as predation by black-crowned nightherons (Nycticorax nycticorax) and adverse weather conditions during the early stages of chick rearing, may be more important determinants of common tern breeding success than parental quality or fish availability.
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