Analysis of past and present changes in the number of seabirds of French Antarctic and Subantarctic territories and its implication for the management of Southern populations
- P Jouventin, H Weimerskirch
The Lesser Sheathbill Chionis minor is an opportunistic predator and scavenger that breeds on sub-Antarctic islands during the summer season, when many other seabirds are present, especially penguins on which it is kleptoparasitic. It is a poor flyer and over-winters on its breeding grounds, where it faces a diminished food supply and low temperatures. Its foraging behaviour was suspected to be plastic enough to respond to such a variable environment, and we show how this species enlarged its niche to survive in winter. Population movements, dietary changes and monthly weight gains were quantified during a 13-month period of observation. Mortality rates, calculated over a 19-year period of banding, appeared to be age dependent: they decrease, due to competition, from juveniles to subadults, adult non-breeders, and breeders. One of the survival strategies described here is, to our knowledge, unique among birds. After the Crested Penguin colonies have been deserted, some adult sheathbills (mainly females) remained territorial, extending their territory size and diet while their partners moved to previously undefended zones in King Penguin colonies (permanent and large in the Crozet archipelago), where they competed for a winter territory and subsequently associated with another mate. After this winter mating, mobile sheathbills returned the following summer to their breeding territory and previous mate.