Chick provisioning rates and growth in Black-browed Albatross Diomedea melanophris and Grey-headed Albatross D. chrysostoma at Bird Island, South Georgia

We compared the parental division of labour and the pattern and rate of parental provisioning by two sympatric species of albatross of similar mass and breeding timetable but differing in diet and in the duration of chick-rearing. Using electronic weighing platforms inside artificial nests, we recorded chick mass of Black-browed Albatross and Grey-headed Albatross at Bird Island, South Georgia every 10 minutes for both species in 1993 and 1994 and for each species in two other years between 1990 and 1996. The chick mass data (nearly one million weighings) were used to calculate meal mass (over 5000 meals) and intervals between meals. Adult birds were fitted with radio-transmitters which allowed each meal to be allocated to the appropriate parent. The combination of meal mass and foraging trip duration were used to calculate provisioning rates for chicks and individual adults. Overall, Black-browed Albatrosses delivered significantly lighter meals (569 g) than Grey-headed Albatrosses (616 g) but more frequently (every 2.07 days and 2.50 days respectively). Thus combining foraging trip data for both parents, Black-browed Albatross chicks received a meal every 1.22 days compared with 1.26 days for Greyheaded Albatross. These rates did not differ significantly. The contribution of each sex of each species in chick provisioning fluctuated between years, being similar in some years or biased towards males in others. Chicks of both species that failed to fledge received smaller, less frequent meals than successful chicks. In 1990 and 1994, Black-browed Albatross chick provisioning rates were lower than in 1992 and 1993. In 1990, both meal mass and trip duration were affected, but only in 1994 was trip duration longer. Greyheaded Albatross chick provisioning rate was lower in 1994 than in other years but trip duration was longer. In each species, significant changes in meal mass and trip duration occurred within the chick-rearing period. Chick provisioning rates invariably declined before chicks attained their peak mass. For both species, chick growth rates and peak and fledging mass, but not fledging age, were affected by differences in provisioning rate.


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Authors: Huin, Nicolas, Prince, Peter A., Briggs, Dirk R.

1 January, 2000
Ibis / 142
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