Pre‐moult patterns of habitat use and moult site selection by Brent Geese Branta bernicla nigricans: Individuals prospect for moult sites

By: , and 



In environments where habitat quality varies, the mechanism by which individuals assess and select habitats has significant consequences on their spatial distribution and ability to respond to environmental change. Each year, thousands of Black Brent Geese Branta bernicla nigricans migrate to the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area (TLSA), Alaska, to undergo a flightless wing‐moult. Over the last three decades, moulting Brent Geese have changed their distribution within the TLSA, redistributing from inland, freshwater wetlands towards coastal, brackish wetlands. To understand better the mechanism by which Brent Geese select a moult site, as well as reasons behind the long‐term shift of moulting distributions, we examined movements and habitat use of birds marked with GPS‐transmitters during the pre‐moult period. Brent Geese did not generally migrate directly to their moulting site during the pre‐moult period, defined as the time from arrival at the moulting grounds to the onset of flightlessness. Rather, individuals used an average of 3.7 ± 0.6 (se) wetland complexes and travelled a minimum of 95.14 ± 15.84 km during the pre‐moult period. Moreover, 69% of Brent Geese visited their final moult site only to leave and visit other sites before returning for the flightless moult. Brent Geese spent significant time in both inland freshwater and coastal estuarine habitats during the pre‐moult, irrespective of the habitat in which they ultimately moulted. Whereas previous research suggested that Brent Geese choose moult sites based largely upon the experience of previous years, our observations suggest a mechanism of moult site selection whereby Brent Geese ‘prospect’ for moult sites, visiting multiple potential moult sites across varied habitat types, presumably gathering information from each site and correspondingly using this information to choose an appropriate moult site. By allowing individuals to adjust their distributions in response to habitat quality cues that may change annually, such as forage type and availability, prospecting may have influenced the long‐term shift in moulting distributions of Brent Geese in the TLSA.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Pre‐moult patterns of habitat use and moult site selection by Brent Geese Branta bernicla nigricans: Individuals prospect for moult sites
Series title Ibis
DOI 10.1111/j.1474-919X.2010.01023.x
Volume 152
Issue 3
Year Published 2010
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Alaska Science Center
Description 13 p.
First page 556
Last page 568
Country United States
State Alaska
Other Geospatial Teshekpuk Lake Special Area