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GPS tracking devices reveal foraging strategies of Black-legged Kittiwakes

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Full Publication:

Product Type: Journal Article

Year: 2009

Authors: Kotzerka, J., S. Garthe, and S. A. Hatch

Suggested Citation:
Kotzerka, J., S. Garthe, and S. A. Hatch. 2009. GPS tracking devices reveal foraging strategies of Black-legged Kittiwakes. Journal of Ornithology 2010(151):459-467. doi:10.1007/s10336-009-0479-y


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.

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