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Free Content Dramatic changes in the return date of Guillemots Uria aalge to colonies in Shetland, 1962–2005: Capsule Changes in return date coincided with marked changes in population size that probably resulted in fluctuating competition for nest‐sites.

Aims To document the changes in return dates over a 44‐year period and to identify the factors associated with these changes.

Methods We compared changes in return date at Shetland colonies with those for the Isle of May, southeast Scotland, and with the available information on population size, the abundance of some fish species eaten by Common Guillemots and large‐scale changes in the oceanography and climate of the eastern Atlantic as reflected by the winter index of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO).

Results Common Guillemots normally return to colonies in Shetland in late winter. However, during the 1960s return dates became gradually earlier with birds present from early October. Autumn return remained the norm for about ten years after which return dates gradually reverted back to late winter. In contrast, Common Guillemots on the Isle of May, 400 km south of Shetland, showed no marked shift, returning in October each year. There was a strong negative correlation between date of return of Shetland birds and population size, whereas on the Isle of May birds came back earlier when there was a large positive winter NAO index. There was no convincing evidence that changes in wintering areas or fish abundance influenced when birds returned to the colonies, although the fish data may not have been collected on the correct spatial scale.

Conclusion Competition for high quality nest‐sites is the most likely reason for Common Guillemots returning to the colonies during the autumn and winter.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Hill of Brathens, Banchory, Aberdeenshire, AB31 4BW, UK 2: SOTEAG, University of Aberdeen, 23 St. Machar Drive, Aberdeen, AB24 3RY, UK 3: Fair Isle Bird Observatory Trust, Fair Isle, Shetland, ZE2 9JU, UK 4: Shetland Ringing Group, Heilinabretta, Trondra, Shetland, ZE1 OXL, UK

Publication date: November 1, 2006

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