Research Topic: Condition of Breeding Atlantic Puffins
Email Kevin Kelly
Brief Abstract of Research:
As food resources at Machias Seal Island in the Bay of Fundy have shifted since the mid-1990s, changes in the local seabird populations have occurred. Declines in Herring, as prey, have corresponded with crashing Arctic and Common Tern populations on the island; there have been no successful breeding attempts since 2006 by either species. This observed decline in Herring has not resulted in any notable change in the Atlantic Puffin population or noticeable decline in reproductive success. I wanted to start monitor the puffins in order to see if individuals were being affected, and if so, what this might mean for the population over time. I am therefore monitoring the condition of individual breeding puffins in order to try to answer the following questions:
1) Are breeding puffins that are in better condition at the beginning of the breeding season more successful at raising young?
2) Are adult puffins in poorer condition at the end of breeding seasons in which food resources are poorer?
In order to monitor the condition of individuals I am looking at stress hormones, white blood cell counts, metabolites in the blood, and the size and mass of the birds. I sample the bird’s condition shortly after egg laying and again right before chick fledging. The success of the nest for each sampled bird is followed throughout the breeding season, as well as growth rates of the chicks. To monitor food resources during the breeding season I conduct feeding watches where I record the prey (amount, size and species) being brought to growing chicks by adult puffins.
In addition to studying the physiological condition of the puffins and how it affects their breeding success, I’m also looking at whether their condition affects the colour expression in their bills and feet. Big or bright ornaments in animals are often an honest signal of the condition of an individual so I am testing to see if puffins in better condition express this through the colour of their bills and feet.
Kelly, K.G., Holberton, R., Hanley, D. and A.W. Diamond. August 2012. Is the Colour of Atlantic Puffin Bills and Feet an Honest Signal of Condition? North American Ornithological Congress, Vancouver, BC.