• connectivity;
  • demography;
  • fat-tailed distribution;
  • long-distance dispersal;
  • movement;
  • philopatry

Knowledge of the rate, distance and direction of dispersal within and among breeding areas is required to understand and predict demographic and genetic connectivity and resulting population and evolutionary dynamics. However dispersal rates, and the full distributions of dispersal distances and directions, are rarely comprehensively estimated across all spatial scales relevant to wild populations. We used re-sightings of European Shags Phalacrocorax aristotelis colour-ringed as chicks on the Isle of May (IoM), UK, to quantify rates, distances and directions of dispersal from natal to subsequent breeding sites both within IoM (within-colony dispersal) and across 27 other breeding colonies covering 1045 km of coastline (among-colony dispersal). Additionally, we used non-breeding season surveys covering 895 km of coastline to estimate breeding season detection probability and hence potential bias in estimated dispersal parameters. Within IoM, 99.6% of individuals dispersed between their natal and observed breeding nest-site. The distribution of within-colony dispersal distances was right-skewed; mean distance was shorter than expected given random settlement within IoM, yet some individuals dispersed long distances within the colony. The distribution of within-colony dispersal directions was non-uniform but did not differ from expectation given the spatial arrangement of nest-sites. However, 10% of all 460 colour-ringed adults that were located breeding had dispersed to a different colony. The maximum observed dispersal distance (170 km) was much smaller than the maximum distance surveyed (690 km). The distribution of among-colony dispersal distances was again right-skewed. Among-colony dispersal was directional, and differed from random expectation and from the distribution of within-colony dispersal directions. Non-breeding season surveys suggested that the probability of detecting a colour-ringed adult at its breeding location was high in the northeastern UK (98%). Estimated dispersal rates and distributions were therefore robust to incomplete detection. Overall, these data demonstrate skewed and directionally divergent dispersal distributions across small (within-colony) and large (among-colony) scales, indicating that dispersal could create genetic and demographic connectivity within the study area.