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Feeding ecology of the Common Tern Sterna hirundo in a wintering area in southern Brazil

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The wintering diet of Common Terns Sterna hirundo was studied by using 714 pellets collected on roosting sites at the mouth of the Lagoa dos Patos and on adjacent coastal beaches, in Rio Grande do Sul, southern Brazil, from March 1999 to February 2000. A total of 12 340 individual prey items of 35 different food types was found. Fish was the most important food type in the diet, constituting 32% by number and 93% by mass. Insects contributed 67% by number but only 3% by mass. The main food types were sciaenid fishes Paralonchurus brasiliensis, Micropogonias furnieri, Cynoscion guatucupa and Macrodon ancylodon. Several of these are important commercial species; fisheries potentially impact food availability to the terns, and terns may contribute significantly to the natural mortality of these fishes. Clupeiform fishes, the urophycid fish Urophycis brasiliensis and flying ants (Camponotus sp.) were also important. Species composition of the diet (food types), both by number and by mass, differed significantly between months. Prey sizes ranged in length from 12.7 mm to 217.4 mm. The average estimated total length of fish taken was 77.7 mm, but the mean differed significantly among prey species. The importance of demersal sciaenids to the diet of the Common Tern, a surface predator, may be explained by their association with aquatic predators, especially adult Bluefish Pomatomus saltatrix and Striped Weakfish Cynoscion guatucupa, and the Franciscana Dolphin Pontoporia blainvillei, which drive these fish to the surface. The occurrence of flying ants in the diet was related to offshore winds, which carried these insects out to sea. The occasional high availability of insects possibly changed the cost/benefit relationship of several food types, causing diet changes. The high number of prey species, the temporal variations in the composition of the diet and the wide range of prey sizes are evidence of the high dietary plasticity of the Common Tern, at wintering areas in southern Brazil.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Fundação Universidade Federal do Rio Grande (FURG), Departamento de Oceanografia, Laboratório de Elasmobrânquios e Aves Marinhas, C.P. 474, CEP 96 201-900, Rio Grande, RS, Brazil

Publication date: 2004-07-01

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