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Concept: Seabird


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


The African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus) is a highly social and vocal seabird. However, currently available descriptions of the vocal repertoire of African Penguin are mostly limited to basic descriptions of calls. Here we provide, for the first time, a detailed description of the vocal behaviour of this species by collecting audio and video recordings from a large captive colony. We combine visual examinations of spectrograms with spectral and temporal acoustic analyses to determine vocal categories. Moreover, we used a principal component analysis, followed by signal classification with a discriminant function analysis, for statistical validation of the vocalisation types. In addition, we identified the behavioural contexts in which calls were uttered. The results show that four basic vocalisations can be found in the vocal repertoire of adult African Penguin, namely a contact call emitted by isolated birds, an agonistic call used in aggressive interactions, an ecstatic display song uttered by single birds, and a mutual display song vocalised by pairs, at their nests. Moreover, we identified two distinct vocalisations interpreted as begging calls by nesting chicks (begging peep) and unweaned juveniles (begging moan). Finally, we discussed the importance of specific acoustic parameters in classifying calls and the possible use of the source-filter theory of vocal production to study penguin vocalisations.

Concepts: Bird, Principal component analysis, Seabird, Penguins, Flightless birds, Magellanic Penguin, Humboldt Penguin, Spheniscus


Excessive or misdirected artificial light at night (ALAN) produces light pollution that influences several aspects of the biology and ecology of birds, including disruption of circadian rhythms and disorientation during flight. Many migrating birds traverse large expanses of land twice every year at night when ALAN illuminates the sky. Considering the extensive and increasing encroachment of light pollution around the world, we evaluated the association of the annual mean ALAN intensity over land within the geographic ranges of 298 nocturnally migrating bird species with five factors: phase of annual cycle, mean distance between breeding and non-breeding ranges, range size, global hemisphere of range, and IUCN category of conservation concern. Light pollution within geographic ranges was relatively greater during the migration season, for shorter-distance migrants, for species with smaller ranges, and for species in the western hemisphere. Our results suggest that migratory birds may be subject to the effects of light pollution particularly during migration, the most critical stage in their annual cycle. We hope these results will spur further research on how light pollution affects not only migrating birds, but also other highly mobile animals throughout their annual cycle.

Concepts: Bird, Cuckoo, Albatross, Seabird, Lighting, Light pollution, Bird migration, Bird flight


Migratory seabirds face threats from climate change and a variety of anthropogenic disturbances. Although most seabird research has focused on the ecology of individuals at the colony, technological advances now allow researchers to track seabird movements at sea and during migration. We combined telemetry data on Onychoprion fuscatus (sooty terns) with a long-term capture-mark-recapture dataset from the Dry Tortugas National Park to map the movements at sea for this species, calculate estimates of mortality, and investigate the impact of hurricanes on a migratory seabird. Included in the latter analysis is information on the locations of recovered bands from deceased individuals wrecked by tropical storms. We present the first known map of sooty tern migration in the Atlantic Ocean. Our results indicate that the birds had minor overlaps with areas affected by the major 2010 oil spill and a major shrimp fishery. Indices of hurricane strength and occurrence are positively correlated with annual mortality and indices of numbers of wrecked birds. As climate change may lead to an increase in severity and frequency of major hurricanes, this may pose a long-term problem for this colony.

Concepts: Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic Ocean, Seabird, Ocean, Tropical cyclone, Tern, Sooty Tern, Onychoprion


Anthropogenic debris in the world’s oceans and coastal environments is a pervasive global issue that has both direct and indirect impacts on avifauna. The number of bird species affected, the feeding ecologies associated with an increased risk of debris ingestion, and selectivity of ingested debris have yet to be investigated in most of Australia’s coastal and marine birds. With this study we aim to address the paucity of data regarding marine debris ingestion in Australian coastal and marine bird species. We investigated which Australian bird groups ingest marine debris, and whether debris-ingesting groups exhibit selectivity associated with their taxonomy, habitat or foraging methods. Here we present the largest multispecies study of anthropogenic debris ingestion in Australasian avifauna to date. We necropsied and investigated the gastrointestinal contents of 378 birds across 61 species, collected dead across eastern Australia. These species represented nine taxonomic orders, five habitat groups and six feeding strategies. Among investigated species, thirty percent had ingested debris, though ingestion did not occur uniformly within the orders of birds surveyed. Debris ingestion was found to occur in orders Procellariiformes, Suliformes, Charadriiformes and Pelecaniformes, across all surveyed habitats, and among birds that foraged by surface feeding, pursuit diving and search-by-sight. Procellariiformes, birds in pelagic habitats, and surface feeding marine birds ingested debris with the greatest frequency. Among birds which were found to ingest marine debris, we investigated debris selectivity and found that marine birds were selective with respect to both type and colour of debris. Selectivity for type and colour of debris significantly correlated with taxonomic order, habitat and foraging strategy. This study highlights the significant impact of feeding ecology on debris ingestion among Australia’s avifauna.

Concepts: Eating, Ingestion, Bird, Albatross, Seabird, Penguin, Procellariiformes, Shearwater


Olfactory cues have been shown to be important to homing petrels at night, but apparently those procellariiform species that also come back to the colony during the day are not impaired by smell deprivation. However, the nycthemeral distribution of homing, i.e. whether displaced birds released at night return to their burrow by night or during daylight, has never been investigated. To explore this question, we studied the homing behaviour of Cory’s shearwater (Calonectris borealis) in the only known population where these birds are active at the colony both during the day and the night. Here, we compared the nocturnal versus diurnal homing schedule of birds treated with zinc sulphate to induce a reversible but complete anosmia, to that of controls. Our results show that anosmic shearwaters were unable to home in the dark and were constrained to wait for the daylight to find their burrow again. Our results confirm that olfaction is the basic sensory input for homing by night even in a petrel species that is diurnally active at the colony.

Concepts: Bird, Olfaction, Seabird, Procellariiformes, Petrel, Puffinus, Shearwater, Calonectris


Marine top predators such as seabirds are useful indicators of the integrated response of the marine ecosystem to environmental variability at different scales. Large-scale physical gradients constrain seabird habitat. Birds however respond behaviourally to physical heterogeneity at much smaller scales. Here, we use, for the first time, three-dimensional GPS tracking of a seabird, the great frigatebird (Fregata minor), in the Mozambique Channel. These data, which provide at the same time high-resolution vertical and horizontal positions, allow us to relate the behaviour of frigatebirds to the physical environment at the (sub-)mesoscale (10-100 km, days-weeks). Behavioural patterns are classified based on the birds' vertical displacement (e.g. fast/slow ascents and descents), and are overlaid on maps of physical properties of the ocean-atmosphere interface, obtained by a nonlinear analysis of multi-satellite data. We find that frigatebirds modify their behaviours concurrently to transport and thermal fronts. Our results suggest that the birds' co-occurrence with these structures is a consequence of their search not only for food (preferentially searched over thermal fronts) but also for upward vertical wind. This is also supported by their relationship with mesoscale patterns of wind divergence. Our multi-disciplinary method can be applied to forthcoming high-resolution animal tracking data, and aims to provide a mechanistic understanding of animals' habitat choice and of marine ecosystem responses to environmental change.

Concepts: Psychology, Natural environment, Bird, Seabird, Kleptoparasitism, Frigatebird, Great Frigatebird, Fregata


Studies on the parasitic fauna of migratory sea birds of the Puffinus genus are scarce. Therefore, the aim of this study was to identify parasites of 16 specimens of Puffinus puffinus (Procellariiformes, Procellariidae) that died during the period of June 2011 to December 2011 at the Wildlife Screening Center (CETAS) of the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Natural Resources (IBAMA) in Cabedelo, Paraíba. During necropsy, biting lice and/or gastrointestinal helminths were collected in seven (43.7 %) birds. Lice were collected in five (31.2 %) birds, and the species identified were Halipeurus diversus, Trabeculus aviator, Austromenopon paululum), Saemundssonia sp. and Naubates sp. The prevalence of helminths was also 31.2 %. The nematodes species were Seuratia shipleyi and Contracaecum sp., and cestodes were Tetrabothrius sp. This is the first record in Brazil of Naubates sp., Seuratia shipleyi, Contracaecum sp., and Tetrabothrius sp. in Puffinus puffinus.

Concepts: Conservation biology, Bird, Albatross, Seabird, Brazil, Shearwater, Procellariidae, Manx Shearwater


Australasian gannets (Morus serrator), like many other seabird species, locate pelagic prey from the air and perform rapid plunge dives for their capture. Prey are captured underwater either in the momentum (M) phase of the dive while descending through the water column, or the wing flapping (WF) phase while moving, using the wings for propulsion. Detection of prey from the air is clearly visually guided, but it remains unknown whether plunge diving birds also use vision in the underwater phase of the dive. Here we address the question of whether gannets are capable of visually accommodating in the transition from aerial to aquatic vision, and analyse underwater video footage for evidence that gannets use vision in the aquatic phases of hunting. Photokeratometry and infrared video photorefraction revealed that, immediately upon submergence of the head, gannet eyes accommodate and overcome the loss of greater than 45 D (dioptres) of corneal refractive power which occurs in the transition between air and water. Analyses of underwater video showed the highest prey capture rates during WF phase when gannets actively pursue individual fish, a behaviour that very likely involves visual guidance, following the transition after the plunge dive’s M phase. This is to our knowledge the first demonstration of the capacity for visual accommodation underwater in a plunge diving bird while capturing submerged prey detected from the air.

Concepts: Seabird, Lens, Scuba diving, Gannet, Australasian Gannet, Gannets, Sulidae, Booby


Outdoor cats represent a global threat to terrestrial vertebrate conservation, but management has been rife with conflict due to differences in views of the problem and appropriate responses to it. To evaluate these differences we conducted a survey of opinions about outdoor cats and their management with two contrasting stakeholder groups, cat colony caretakers (CCCs) and bird conservation professionals (BCPs) across the United States. Group opinions were polarized, for both normative statements (CCCs supported treating feral cats as protected wildlife and using trap neuter and release [TNR] and BCPs supported treating feral cats as pests and using euthanasia) and empirical statements. Opinions also were related to gender, age, and education, with females and older respondents being less likely than their counterparts to support treating feral cats as pests, and females being less likely than males to support euthanasia. Most CCCs held false beliefs about the impacts of feral cats on wildlife and the impacts of TNR (e.g., 9% believed feral cats harmed bird populations, 70% believed TNR eliminates cat colonies, and 18% disagreed with the statement that feral cats filled the role of native predators). Only 6% of CCCs believed feral cats carried diseases. To the extent the beliefs held by CCCs are rooted in lack of knowledge and mistrust, rather than denial of directly observable phenomenon, the conservation community can manage these conflicts more productively by bringing CCCs into the process of defining data collection methods, defining study/management locations, and identifying common goals related to caring for animals.

Concepts: Gender, Bird, Seabird, Cat, Cats, Feral cat, Trap-Neuter-Return, Invasive animal species