Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Seabird


Despite concerted international effort to track and interpret shifts in the abundance and distribution of Adélie penguins, large populations continue to be identified. Here we report on a major hotspot of Adélie penguin abundance identified in the Danger Islands off the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula (AP). We present the first complete census of Pygoscelis spp. penguins in the Danger Islands, estimated from a multi-modal survey consisting of direct ground counts and computer-automated counts of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) imagery. Our survey reveals that the Danger Islands host 751,527 pairs of Adélie penguins, more than the rest of AP region combined, and include the third and fourth largest Adélie penguin colonies in the world. Our results validate the use of Landsat medium-resolution satellite imagery for the detection of new or unknown penguin colonies and highlight the utility of combining satellite imagery with ground and UAV surveys. The Danger Islands appear to have avoided recent declines documented on the Western AP and, because they are large and likely to remain an important hotspot for avian abundance under projected climate change, deserve special consideration in the negotiation and design of Marine Protected Areas in the region.

Concepts: Climate change, Seabird, Penguin, Remote sensing, Antarctica, Aerial photography, Unmanned aerial vehicle, Unmanned vehicles


Albatrosses do something that no other birds are able to do: fly thousands of kilometres at no mechanical cost. This is possible because they use dynamic soaring, a flight mode that enables them to gain the energy required for flying from wind. Until now, the physical mechanisms of the energy gain in terms of the energy transfer from the wind to the bird were mostly unknown. Here we show that the energy gain is achieved by a dynamic flight manoeuvre consisting of a continually repeated up-down curve with optimal adjustment to the wind. We determined the energy obtained from the wind by analysing the measured trajectories of free flying birds using a new GPS-signal tracking method yielding a high precision. Our results reveal an evolutionary adaptation to an extreme environment, and may support recent biologically inspired research on robotic aircraft that might utilize albatrosses' flight technique for engineless propulsion.

Concepts: Evolution, Bird, Albatross, Seabird, Flying and gliding animals, Procellariiformes, Aircraft, Dynamic soaring


Molecular sexing revealed an unexpectedly strong female bias in the sex ratio of pre-breeding European Storm Petrels (Hydrobates pelagicus), attracted to playback of conspecific calls during their northwards migration past SW Europe. This bias was consistent across seven years, ranging from 80.8% to 89.7% female (mean annual sex ratio ± SD = 85.5% female ±4.1%). The sex ratio did not differ significantly from unity (i.e., 50% female) among (i) Storm Petrel chicks at a breeding colony in NW France, (ii) adults found dead on beaches in Southern Portugal, (iii) breeding birds attending nest burrows in the UK, captured by hand, and (iv) adults captured near a breeding colony in the UK using copies of the same sound recordings as used in Southern Europe, indicating that females are not inherently more strongly attracted to playback calls than males. A morphological discriminant function analysis failed to provide a good separation of the sexes, showing the importance of molecular sexing for this species. We found no sex difference in the seasonal or nocturnal timing of migration past Southern Europe, but there was a significant tendency for birds to be caught in sex-specific aggregations. The preponderance of females captured in Southern Europe suggests that the sexes may differ in migration route or in their colony-prospecting behaviour during migration, at sites far away from their natal colonies. Such differences in migration behaviour between males and females are poorly understood but have implications for the vulnerability of seabirds to pollution and environmental change at sea during the non-breeding season.

Concepts: Male, Female, Sexual dimorphism, Gender, Sex, Seabird, Procellariiformes, Storm-petrel


Conflict arises in fisheries worldwide when piscivorous birds target fish species of commercial value. This paper presents a method for estimating size selectivity functions for piscivores and uses it to compare predation selectivities of Great Cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo sinensis L. 1758) with that of gill-net fishing on a European perch (Perca fluviatilis L. 1758) population in the Curonian Lagoon, Lithuania. Fishers often regard cormorants as an unwanted “satellite species”, but the degree of direct competition and overlap in size-specific selectivity between fishers and cormorants is unknown. This study showed negligible overlap in selectivity between Great Cormorants and legal-sized commercial nets. The selectivity estimation method has general application potential for use in conjunction with population dynamics models to assess fish population responses to size-selective fishing from a wide range of piscivorous predators.

Concepts: Bird, Seabird, Perch, Cormorant, Population dynamics of fisheries, Great Cormorant, Phalacrocorax, Pelecaniformes


Capture in global pelagic longline fisheries threatens the viability of some seabird populations. The Hawaii longline tuna fishery annually catches hundreds of seabirds, primarily Laysan (Phoebastria immutabilis) and black-footed (P. nigripes) albatrosses. Since seabird regulations were introduced in 2001, the seabird catch rate has declined 74%. However, over the past decade, seabird catch levels significantly increased due to significant increasing trends in both effort and nominal seabird catch rates. We modelled observer data using a spatio-temporal generalized additive mixed model with zero-inflated Poisson likelihood to determine the significance of the effect of various risk factors on the seabird catch rate. The seabird catch rate significantly increased as annual mean multivariate ENSO index values increased, suggesting that decreasing ocean productivity observed in recent years in the central north Pacific may have contributed to the increasing trend in nominal seabird catch rate. A significant increasing trend in number of albatrosses attending vessels, possibly linked to declining regional ocean productivity and increasing absolute abundance of black-footed albatrosses, may also have contributed to the increasing nominal seabird catch rate. Largest opportunities for reductions are through augmented efficacy of seabird bycatch mitigation north of 23° N where mitigation methods are required and during setting instead of during hauling. Both side vs. stern setting, and blue-dyed vs. untreated bait significantly reduced the seabird catch rate. Of two options for meeting regulatory requirements, side setting had a significantly lower seabird catch rate than blue-dyed bait. There was significant spatio-temporal and seasonal variation in the risk of seabird capture with highest catch rates in April and May and to the northwest of the main Hawaiian Islands.

Concepts: Albatross, Seabird, Hawaiian Islands, Procellariiformes, Tuna, Bycatch, Laysan Albatross, Longline fishing


Ecological associations where one species enhances habitat for another nearby species (facilitations) shape fundamental community dynamics and can promote niche expansion, thereby influencing how and where species persist and coexist. For the many breeding birds facing high nest-predation pressure, enemy-free space can be gained by nesting near more formidable animals for physical protection. While the benefits to protected species seem well documented, very few studies have explored whether and how protector species are affected by nest protection associations. Long-legged wading birds (Pelecaniformes and Ciconiiformes) actively choose nesting sites above resident American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis), apparently to take advantage of the protection from mammalian nest predators that alligator presence offers. Previous research has shown that wading bird nesting colonies could provide substantial food for alligators in the form of dropped chicks. We compared alligator body condition in similar habitat with and without wading bird nesting colonies present. Alligator morphometric body condition indices were significantly higher in colony than in non-colony locations, an effect that was statistically independent of a range of environmental variables. Since colonially nesting birds and crocodilians co-occur in many tropical and subtropical wetlands, our results highlight a potentially widespread keystone process between two ecologically important species-groups. These findings suggest the interaction is highly beneficial for both groups of actors, and illustrate how selective pressures may have acted to form and reinforce a strongly positive ecological interaction.

Concepts: Bird, Seabird, Crocodilia, Alligatoridae, Alligator, American Alligator, Stork, Ciconiiformes


Consistent with a warming climate, birds are shifting the timing of their migrations, but it remains unclear to what extent these shifts have kept pace with the changing environment. Because bird migration is primarily cued by annually consistent physiological responses to photoperiod, but conditions at their breeding grounds depend on annually variable climate, bird arrival and climate-driven spring events would diverge. We combined satellite and citizen science data to estimate rates of change in phenological interval between spring green-up and migratory arrival for 48 breeding passerine species across North America. Both arrival and green-up changed over time, usually in the same direction (earlier or later). Although birds adjusted their arrival dates, 9 of 48 species did not keep pace with rapidly changing green-up and across all species the interval between arrival and green-up increased by over half a day per year. As green-up became earlier in the east, arrival of eastern breeding species increasingly lagged behind green-up, whereas in the west-where green-up typically became later-birds arrived increasingly earlier relative to green-up. Our results highlight that phenologies of species and trophic levels can shift at different rates, potentially leading to phenological mismatches with negative fitness consequences.

Concepts: Ecology, Bird, Cuckoo, Albatross, Human migration, Seabird, Change, Bird migration


Landbirds undertaking within-continent migrations have the possibility to stop en route, but most long-distance migrants must also undertake large non-stop sea crossings, the length of which can vary greatly. For shorebirds migrating from Iceland to West Africa, the shortest route would involve one of the longest continuous sea crossings while alternative, mostly overland, routes are available. Using geolocators to track the migration of Icelandic whimbrels (Numenius phaeopus), we show that they can complete a round-trip of 11,000 km making two non-stop sea crossings and flying at speeds of up to 24 m s(-1); the fastest recorded for shorebirds flying over the ocean. Although wind support could reduce flight energetic costs, whimbrels faced headwinds up to twice their ground speed, indicating that unfavourable and potentially fatal weather conditions are not uncommon. Such apparently high risk migrations might be more common than previously thought, with potential fitness gains outweighing the costs.

Concepts: Africa, Bird, Human migration, Seabird, Ocean, Wader, Bird migration, Stork


Many birds fly non-stop for days or longer, but do they sleep in flight and if so, how? It is commonly assumed that flying birds maintain environmental awareness and aerodynamic control by sleeping with only one eye closed and one cerebral hemisphere at a time. However, sleep has never been demonstrated in flying birds. Here, using electroencephalogram recordings of great frigatebirds (Fregata minor) flying over the ocean for up to 10 days, we show that they can sleep with either one hemisphere at a time or both hemispheres simultaneously. Also unexpectedly, frigatebirds sleep for only 0.69 h d(-1) (7.4% of the time spent sleeping on land), indicating that ecological demands for attention usually exceed the attention afforded by sleeping unihemispherically. In addition to establishing that birds can sleep in flight, our results challenge the view that they sustain prolonged flights by obtaining normal amounts of sleep on the wing.

Concepts: Sleep, Neuroscience, Bird, Seabird, Wing, Frigatebird, Great Frigatebird, Fregata


Seabirds drastically transform the environmental conditions of the sites where they establish their breeding colonies via soil, sediment, and water eutrophication (hereafter termed ornitheutrophication). Here, we report worldwide amounts of total nitrogen (N) and total phosphorus (P) excreted by seabirds using an inventory of global seabird populations applied to a bioenergetics model. We estimate these fluxes to be 591 Gg N y-1 and 99 Gg P y-1, respectively, with the Antarctic and Southern coasts receiving the highest N and P inputs. We show that these inputs are of similar magnitude to others considered in global N and P cycles, with concentrations per unit of surface area in seabird colonies among the highest measured on the Earth’s surface. Finally, an important fraction of the total excreted N (72.5 Gg y-1) and P (21.8 Gg y-1) can be readily solubilized, increasing their short-term bioavailability in continental and coastal waters located near the seabird colonies.

Concepts: Agriculture, Eutrophication, Earth, Nitrogen, Seabird, Excretion, Southern Ocean, Antarctic