Evidence that tufted puffins Fratercula cirrhata use colony overflights to reduce kleptoparasitism risk

  • Blackburn G
  • Hipfner J
  • Ydenberg R
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Predation, foraging and mating costs are critical factors shaping life histories. Among colonial seabirds, colony overflights may enhance foraging or mating success, or diminish the risk of predation and kleptoparasitism. The latter possibility is difficult to test because low predation or kleptoparasitism rates could be due either to low danger or to effective counter-tactics by prey. Tufted puffins Fratercula cirrhata breeding at a large colony in British Columbia, Canada, deliver several loads of fish each day to their nestlings and are targets for kleptoparasitism by glaucous-winged gulls Larus glaucescens. In the present study, we documented the ecological conditions under which overflights occurred in order to assess when overflights were made and to statistically isolate the effect of overflights on kleptoparasitism risk at this site. Load-carrying puffins engaged in overflights under ecological conditions associated with relatively high rates of kleptoparasitism. Further, when ecological factors determining risk were statistically controlled, overflights were correlated with marginally lower chances of kleptoparasitism than when the risk factors were ignored. The results suggest that breeding puffins at this site use overflights for kleptoparasite avoidance. This tactic is used sparingly, suggesting it is costly. Costs of overflight behaviour might contribute to the impact of kleptoparasitism on the breeding success of tufted puffins.

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