Moult of the giant petrels Macronectes halli and M. giganteus at South Georgia

Moult scores were collected from colour‐ringed individuals of known reproductive status of the two species of giant petrel, Macronectes halli and M. giganteus, at Bird Island, South Georgia between 1978–81. Both species showed a substantial overlap between breeding and wing‐moult, unlike most other Southern Ocean seabirds. Males started moult before females and both sexes of M. giganteus moulted at an earlier stage of the breeding cycle than M. halli, which breeds six weeks earlier than its congener. Changes in moult rate during the breeding season are documented for both species, with Id. halli showing a rapid increase as the chick nears fledging. Male M. giganteus show a notably different pattern to the other three species‐sex groups, starting moult much earlier (at egg‐laying), with greater individual synchrony and usually suspending primary moult throughout the main chick growth period, whereas only two male M. halli and no females of either species suspended moult. Differences in pattern, timing and rate of moult are interpreted in terms of availability of food resources and the competing energy demands of other activities, especially chick‐rearing. Completion of primary moult could not be observed in the field but was estimated using data frcsm non‐breeding birds and failed breeders; the latter started a rapid moult almost immediately they failed. In both sexes of both species moult is probably concluded at least by early winter. The general pattern of moult in giant petrels at Bird Island is contrasted with that of other populations and species of Southern Ocean seabirds. It is suggested that the unusually extensive overlap between breeding and moult in giant petrels is a consequence of the very abundant and easily available summer food supplies (especially carrion) and the much diminished winter resources, favouring a completion of moult by the beginning of the winter


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Authors: Hunter, S.

1 January, 1984
Ibis / 126
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