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Study documents marathon migrations of sooty shearwaters

eriod of peak productivity.

Diving patterns recorded by the tags indicate the birds stop little if at all to feed as they pass through the equatorial regions on their journey between the Southern and Northern Hemispheres.

"When they cross the equator, they're traveling fast and not stopping much to feed. They feed near Antarctica during the austral summer, then zip north to feed in one of three areas of the North Pacific, taking advantage of high productivity throughout the year," Shaffer said.

Sooty shearwaters are one of the most abundant bird species in the world, with a total population estimated at about 20 million. Nevertheless, they are potentially vulnerable to changes in their food supply, Shaffer said. Scientists have reported recent population declines at breeding colonies in New Zealand and in the eastern North Pacific.

The shearwaters feed on fish, squid, and shrimplike krill, which they take from the surface or pursue underwater. The electronic tags recorded birds diving to depths as great as 68 meters (225 feet) to capture their prey. Average dive depth was about 14 meters (46 feet).

The new study shows that, contrary to previous assumptions, sooty shearwaters do not make a big pan-Pacific sweep to cover all of their feeding areas in the Northern Hemisphere. Instead, individual birds went to just one of the three major hot spots and stayed there until it was time to return south to breed. But Shaffer said the birds that travel to different regions do not represent distinct populations of shearwaters.

"Birds that came to California stayed in California, and if they went to Japan they stayed there and then returned to New Zealand. But two birds from the same nest can end up going to opposite sides of the Pacific, and birds from different breeding colonies can end up in the same place," he said.

The timing and route of the northward migration was somewhat variable, with birds crossin
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Contact: Tim Stephens
stephens@ucsc.edu
831-459-4352
University of California - Santa Cruz
7-Aug-2006


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