Overnight foraging trips by chick-rearing Nazca Boobies Sula granti and the risk of attack by predatory fish


Corresponding author.
Email: cbz3724@alum.uncw.edu


Most tropical booby species complete breeding foraging trips within daylight hours, thus avoiding nights at sea. Nazca Boobies Sula granti are unusual in this respect, frequently spending one or more nights away from the nest. We used GPS dataloggers, time-depth recorders, and changes in body weight to characterize foraging trips and to evaluate potential influences on the decisions of 64 adult Nazca Boobies to spend a night at sea, or to return to their chicks on Isla Española, Galápagos, in daylight hours. The tagged birds foraged east of Isla Española, undertaking both single-day (2–15 h, 67% of trips) and overnight trips (28 h–7.2 days, 33%), and executing 1–19 foraging plunge-dives per single-day trip. Birds might forage longer if they are in nutritional stress when they depart, but body weight at departure was not correlated with trip length. Birds might be expected to return from longer trips with more prey for young, but they returned from single-day and overnight trips with similar body weights, consistent with previous indications that Nazca Boobies forage until accumulating a target value of prey weight. Birds with a lower dive frequency during the first 5 h of a trip were more likely to spend the night at sea, suggesting that they might choose to spend the night at sea if prey capture success was low. At night, birds almost never dived and spent most of their time resting on the water’s surface (11.8–12.1 h, > 99% of the time between civil sunset and civil dawn). Thus, the night is an unproductive time spent among subsurface predators under low illumination. The birds’ webbed feet provided evidence of this risk: 24% of birds were missing > 25% of their foot tissue, probably due to attacks by predatory fish, and the amount of foot tissue lost increased with age, consistent with a cumulative risk across the lifespan. In contrast, other tropical boobies (Blue-footed Sula nebouxii and Brown Boobies Sula leucogaster), which do not spend the night on the water, showed no such damage. These results suggest that chick-rearing Nazca Boobies accept nocturnal predation risk on occasions of low prey encounter during a foraging trip’s first day.