Foraging interactions between wading birds and strand-feeding bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in a coastal salt marsh

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Abstract:

Strand-feeding is a unique foraging technique used by Atlantic bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus (Montagu, 1821)) in salt marshes of the southeastern USA wherein a group of dolphins rushes a creek bank, temporarily stranding themselves to capture fish that have been pushed ashore by their bow wave. Wading birds are attracted to these events to forage on stranded fish. We hypothesized that birds foraging in association with dolphins experience greater foraging efficiency than birds foraging away from dolphins and that some birds are able to meet their entire daily metabolic needs by foraging at strand-feeding events. The species composition, abundance, and foraging success of birds at 569 strand-feeding events were compared with the same parameters from marsh surveys of birds not associated with dolphins. Only Great Egrets (Ardea alba L., 1758) were proportionately more common at strand-feeding events than in the marsh overall (p < 0.001). During peak strand-feeding hours, energy intake per hour was higher for Great Egrets foraging with strand-feeding dolphins than for birds foraging away from dolphins (p = 0.04). Bioenergetic models indicated that prey intake by Great Egrets at strand-feeding events was sufficient to meet their existence and likely their active metabolic requirements.
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