Post-breeding migration of four Long-tailed Skuas (Stercorarius longicaudus) from North and East Greenland to West Africa

Abstract

The Long-tailed Skua (Stercorarius longicaudus) is a specialist predator of lemmings during the summer and hence an important component of the tundra ecosystems, but most of its life cycle takes place offshore and remains largely unknown outside of the breeding season. Using 9.5-g solar-powered satellite transmitters, we were able to document for the first time the post-breeding movements of the Long-tailed Skua, from its high-Arctic breeding-grounds in North and Eastern Greenland to the tropical waters of West Africa. The birds traveled the approximately 10,000 km of this migration in only 3–5 weeks, covering 800–900 km/day during active migration, which also occurred during nighttime. Leaving their breeding areas in August (except for one failed breeder), the Long-tailed Skuas first moved south along the coast of East Greenland towards a staging area off the Canadian Great Banks where they stayed for 1–3 weeks. From there, they crossed the Atlantic Ocean eastwards in just 1 week, entering African waters near the Madeira Archipelago in September. Although only four birds were monitored for 1.5–3 months, the data reveal that the migration routes between birds breeding in different locations and in different years were relatively similar.

Zusammenfassung

Falkenraubmöwen ernähren sich während der Brutzeit hauptsächlich von Lemmingen und stellen somit ein wichtiges Glied in Tundren-Ökosystemen dar. Da sie aber den Großteil ihres Lebens auf hoher See verbringen, ist über ihre Lebensweise außerhalb der Brutsaison nur wenig bekannt. Mit Hilfe von 9.5 g schweren, solarbetriebenen Satellitensendern konnten nun erstmals die Zugbewegungen von den hocharktischen Brutplätzen in Nord- und Ostgrönland bis in die tropischen Gewässer vor der westafrikanischen Küste dokumentiert werden. Innerhalb von 3 bis 5 Wochen legten die Vögel etwa 10,000 km zurück. Die Tagesetappen betrugen 800 bis 900 km, wobei die Vögel auch nachts zogen. Nach dem Verlassen der Brutgebiete im August flogen die Vögel zunächst entlang der ostgrönländischen Küste bis zum Festlandsockel vor Neufundland, wo sie 1 bis 3 Wochen blieben. Sie überquerten anschließend in nur einer Woche den Atlantik in südöstlicher Richtung und gelangten über Madeira und die Kanaren bis in die Nähe der Kapverdischen Inseln. Bislang konnten wir nur 4 Vögel über einen Zeitraum von 1.5 bis 3 Monate verfolgen, jedoch wiesen die Zugrouten aus unterschiedlichen Brutgebieten in beiden Untersuchungsjahren ähnliche Muster auf.

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Acknowledgments

We are grateful to the Groupe de Recherche en Ecologie Arctique and the Musée d’histoire naturelle de Fribourg for financial support, to Pascal Grand, Brigitte Sabard, and Luc Hardy for their help in the field, to the Government of Greenland (Ministry of Domestic Affairs, Nature and Environment) for granting access and research permits in the “North and East Greenland National Park”, and to Ross Bartley for his comments on an earlier draft of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Olivier Gilg.

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Communicated by F. Bairlein.

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Sittler, B., Aebischer, A. & Gilg, O. Post-breeding migration of four Long-tailed Skuas (Stercorarius longicaudus) from North and East Greenland to West Africa. J Ornithol 152, 375–381 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10336-010-0597-6

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Keywords

  • Satellite tracking
  • Post-breeding migration
  • Staging area
  • Upwelling
  • Rates of travel
  • Long-tailed Skua
  • Greenland