Activity patterns of giant petrels, Macronectes spp., using different foraging strategies

We studied foraging activity of giant petrels during the incubation period, by simultaneously deploying activity recorders and satellite transmitters on northern (Macronectes halli) and southern giant petrels (Macronectes giganteus) at Bird Island (South Georgia, Antarctica) between 29 October and 26 December 1998, Satellite tracking showed two types of trips: (1) coastal trips, all undertaken by male northern giant petrels, to the nearby South Georgia mainland, presumably foraging on seal and penguin carcasses on beaches, and (2) pelagic trips, foraging at sea for marine prey or potentially scavenging on distant archipelagos (e.g. South Sandwich, Falkland or South Orkney Islands). Activity recorder data were consistent with the types of trip defined by the satellite tracking data, with median wet activity (time spent at the sea surface) during pelagic trips being 41%, but only 14% on coastal trips. On pelagic trips, there was a significant negative correlation between the duration of wet periods and the speed of travel between satellite uplinks. Mean travelling speed between uplinks was greater during day than night for both types of trips, suggesting that giant petrels prefer to travel during daylight and are less active at night. The scarcity of wet periods during the night in giant petrels foraging to the South Georgia coast (median = 3%, range = 1-9 %) indicates that such birds spent almost all night on land. Likewise, the scarcity of wet periods at night for three birds foraging 700-1,000km south of Bird Island, where there is no land but abundant icebergs, suggests these birds were resting on the icebergs at night. In addition to the adaptations to scavenging on carrion, pelagic trips by giant petrels contain elements similar to those of albatrosses, indicating a complexity to giant petrel lifestyle hitherto unrecognised.


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Authors: González-Solis, J., Croxall, J.P., Briggs, D.R.

1 January, 2002
Marine Biology / 140
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