Patterns of GPS tracks suggest nocturnal foraging by incubating peruvian pelicans (pelecanus thagus)

  • Zavalaga C
  • Dell'Omo G
  • Becciu P
 et al. 
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Abstract

Most seabirds are diurnal foragers, but some species may also feed at night. In Peruvian pelicans (Pelecanus thagus), the evidence for nocturnal foraging is sparse and anecdotal. We used GPS-dataloggers on five incubating Peruvian pelicans from Isla Lobos de Tierra, Perú, to examine their nocturnality, foraging movements and activities patterns at sea. All instrumented pelicans undertook nocturnal trips during a 5-7 day tracking period. Eighty-seven percent of these trips (n = 13) were strictly nocturnal, whereas the remaining occurred during the day and night. Most birds departed from the island after sunset and returned a few hours after sunrise. Birds traveled south of the island for single-day trips at a maximum range of 82.8 km. Overall, 22% of the tracking period was spent at sea, whereas the remaining time was spent on the island. In the intermediate section of the trip (between inbound and outbound commutes), birds spent 77% of the trip time in floating bouts interspersed by short flying bouts, the former being on average three times longer than the latter. Taken together, the high sinuosity of the bird's tracks during floating bouts, the exclusively nocturnal trips of most individuals, and the fact that all birds returned to the island within a few hours after sunrise suggest that pelicans were actively feeding at night. The nocturnal foraging strategy of Peruvian pelicans may reduce food competition with the sympatric and strictly diurnal Guanay cormorants (Phalacrocorax bougainvillii), Peruvian boobies (Sula variegata) and Blue-footed boobies (S. nebouxii), which were present on the island in large numbers. Likewise, plankton bioluminescence might be used by pelicans as indirect cues to locate anchovies during their upward migration at night. The foraging success of pelicans at night may be enhanced by seizing prey close to the sea surface using a sit-and-wait strategy.

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