We use data on pigeon guillemots Cepphus columba to test the hypothesis that discretionary time in breeding seabirds is correlated with variance in prey abundance. We measured the amount of time that guillemots spent at the colony before delivering fish to chicks ("resting time") in relation to fish abundance as measured by beach seines and bottom trawls. Radio telemetry showed that resting time was inversely correlated with time spent diving for fish during foraging trips (r = -0.95). Pigeon guillemots fed their chicks either Pacific sand lance Ammodytes hexapterus, a schooling midwater fish, which exhibited high interannual variance in abundance (CV = 181%), or a variety of non-schooling demersal fishes, which were less variable in abundance (average CV = 111%). Average resting times were 46% higher at colonies where schooling prey dominated the diet. Individuals at these colonies reduced resting times 32% during years of low food abundance, but did not reduce meal delivery rates. In contrast, individuals feeding on non-schooling fishes did not reduce resting times during low food years, but did reduce meal delivery rates by 27%. Interannual variance in resting times was greater for the schooling group than for the non-schooling group. We conclude from these differences that time allocation in pigeon guillemots is more flexible when variable schooling prey dominate diets. Resting times were also 27% lower for individuals feeding two-chick rather than one-chick broods. The combined effects of diet and brood size on adult time budgets may help to explain higher rates of brood reduction for pigeon guillemot chicks fed non-schooling fishes.
Additional publication details
Variance in prey abundance influences time budgets of breeding seabirds: Evidence from pigeon guillemots Cepphus columba