Populations of scavenging seabird species in the North Sea may fluctuate with an artificial food source: the availability of fishery waste. To document this impact, it is necessary to assess the birds' nutritional status during periods with decreased fishing activity. Reference data for this purpose was collected from 22 herring gulls investigated during laboratory fasting. After 6 d of food deprivation and body mass losses exceeding 15%, the first birds entered starvation phase 3. Comparatively, this is a rather weak fasting capacity. Plasma levels of total protein and thyroid hormones decreased and beta-hydroxybutyrate increased with fasting duration. The leucocyte proportions were shifted from lymphocytes to heterophils. After 3 d of refeeding, most of the fasting changes were reversed. Plasma enzyme activities increased and hematocrit, hemoglobin, and erythrocyte numbers decreased in both fasting and control birds, most likely as a result of experimental stress and repeated blood sampling. Glucose, cholesterol, monocytes, basophils, and glycosylated hemoglobin remained fairly constant. Triglycerides, free fatty acids, uric acid, and urea varied significantly, but changes were not as clearly a result of fasting. Therefore, total protein, beta-hydroxybutyrate, triiodothyronine, thyroxine, and lymphocyte and heterophil percentages may be the most reliable indicators of the nutritional status and the condition of free-living herring gulls.
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