Top predators are critical to ecosystem function, exerting a stabilising effect on the food web. Brown skuas are opportunistic predators and scavengers. Although skuas are often the dominant land-based predator at seabird colonies, this is the first detailed study of their movements and activity during breeding. The study was carried out at Bird Island, South Georgia (54°00′S, 38°03′W), in the austral summer of 2011/2012 and included GPS data from 33 breeding adults tracked during the late incubation and early chick-rearing periods. Brown skuas spent on average more than 80 % of time in the territory, and it was extremely rare for both partners to leave the territory simultaneously. Much more time was spent foraging at the coast than in penguin colonies and, based on saltwater immersion data, adults never foraged at sea. None of the tracked birds appeared to specialise in catching small petrels at night. Fewer foraging trips were made per day, and hence, more time was spent in the territory, during incubation than chick-rearing. Despite the pronounced sexual size dimorphism, there were no effects of sex on territorial attendance, foraging time or habitat use. Skuas at Bird Island show higher territorial attendance and are less likely to leave the territory unattended than those breeding elsewhere, suggesting closer proximity to more diverse or abundant food resources than at other colonies. The results tie in with previous diet studies, indicating that brown skuas at this site feed mostly on seal placentae and carrion and that birds may rely on a broader range of food resources as the season progresses.
Sexual Size Dimorphism Trip Duration Breeding Stage Penguin Coloni Brown Skua
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We are grateful to the field team on Bird Island for assisting with device recoveries, and to the South Georgia Heritage Trust and Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands for part-funding the study. We would also like to thank Michelle King and Elaine Fitzcharles for assistance with molecular sexing. The study complied with the relevant laws of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. This study is part of the Ecosystems component of the British Antarctic Survey Polar Science for Planet Earth Programme, funded by The Natural Environment Research Council.
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