Flexible foraging techniques in breeding Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo and Shags Phalacrocorax aristotelis: benthic or pelagic feeding?



A total of 8772 dive durations were recorded during 117 diving bouts in five Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo and five Shags Phalacrocorax aristotelis breeding at the Chausey Islands, France. Diet of the birds was assessed by analysis of 526 pellets containing 13,016 otoliths. Radio-tracking data indicated that Cormorants fed exclusively on pelagic fish during social fishing (5% of the trips) and executed 11% pelagic and 60% benthic dives during the remaining 95% of the trips. In Shags, 44% of all trips were pelagic, and the remaining 56% included 9% pelagic and 67% benthic dives. The proportions of benthic to pelagic dives varied widely between dive sequences of single birds and between individuals and sexes in both species. The prey spectrum of the Cormorants contained both pelagic (29%) and benthic fish (67%) and confirmed considerable flexibility in foraging. In Shags, birds may adjust their diving patterns to accommodate the behaviour of their main prey, sandeels Ammodytidae (87% of all prey). We propose that the wetability of plumage may explain this flexibility.