We fed Herring Clupea pallasi to pairs of Black-legged Kittiwakes Rissa tridactyla throughout the breeding season in two years at a colony in the northern Gulf of Alaska. We measured responses to supplemental feeding in a wide array of breeding parameters to gauge their relative sensitivity to food supply, and thus their potential as indicators of natural foraging conditions. Conventional measures of success (hatching, fledging and overall productivity) were more effective as indicators of food supply than behavioural attributes such as courtship feeding, chick provisioning rates and sibling aggression. However, behaviour such as nest relief during incubation and adult attendance with older chicks were also highly responsive to supplemental food and may be useful for monitoring environmental conditions in studies of shorter duration. On average, the chick-rearing stage contained more sensitive indicators of food availability than prelaying or incubation stages. Overall, rates of hatching and fledging success, and the mean duration of incubation shifts were the most food-sensitive parameters studied.
Additional publication details
Sensitivity of breeding parameters to food supply in Black-legged Kittiwakes Rissa tridactyla