Rafting behaviour of albatrosses and petrels at South Georgia
Seabirds often spend time on the water in the vicinity of their breeding colonies at the start or end of foraging trips, which may be for bathing, social interaction, information transfer, or to reduce predation risk for small petrels that prefer to return to land in darkness. Although such behaviour (hereafter rafting) is common, there are few data on variation in its incidence or timing across species, or analyses of relationships with intrinsic or extrinsic factors such as breeding stage (reflecting central-place foraging constraints) or weather. Here, we use GPS and immersion data collected over multiple years at Bird Island, South Georgia, to investigate rafting behaviour of four albatross and one burrow-nesting petrel species. Nearly all tracked birds (89%) landed within 10 km of the colony at the start of foraging trips for ~ 30 min, whereas only 17% did so at the end, suggesting they likely use rafting mainly for plumage maintenance after extended breeding shifts on land. Rafting duration, distance and bearing from the colony varied markedly according to species, wind speeds and period of the day (daylight vs. darkness), which may reflect differences in foraging direction, time constraints, degree of plumage soiling, diel activity patterns, or the requirement for high wind speeds for efficient flight. Given that all the study populations are decreasing, and most individuals make extensive use of nearshore waters during the breeding season, effective marine spatial planning is required that eliminates or mitigates human risks around their colonies.
Authors: O’Neil, Eleanor W. M. Kowalska, Frankish, Caitlin K. ORCID record for Caitlin K. Frankish, Phillips, Richard A.