Plasticity in foraging strategies of inshore birds: how Little Penguins maintain body reserves while feeding offspring

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Abstract

Breeding animals face important time and energy constraints when caring for themselves and their offspring. For long-lived species, life-history theory predicts that parents should favor survival over current reproductive attempts, thus investing more into their own maintenance than the provisioning of their young. In seabirds, provisioning strategies may additionally be influenced by the distance between breeding sites and foraging areas, and offshore and inshore species should thus exhibit different strategies. Here, we examine the provisioning strategies of an inshore seabird using a long-term data set on more than 200 Little Penguins, Eudyptula minor. They alternated between two consecutive long and several short foraging trips all along chick rearing, a strategy almost never observed for inshore animals. Short trips allowed for regular provisioning of the chicks (high feeding frequency and larger meals), whereas long trips were performed when parent body mass was low and enabled them to rebuild their reserves, suggesting that adult body condition may be a key factor in initiating long trips. Inshore seabirds do use dual strategies of alternating short and long trips, but from our data, on a simpler and less flexible way than for offshore birds.

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