Action: Provide supplementary food for gulls, terns and skuas to increase adult survival
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A randomised, replicated and controlled study in the Antarctic found that female south polar skuas Catharacta maccormicki that were fed lost more weight whilst feeding two chicks than unfed birds. There was no difference for birds with single chicks, or male birds.
Well-fed animals are likely to be in better physical condition than those with too little food: having greater muscle mass and larger fat supplies to help them survive lean periods. However, it is worth noting that species that forage in groups can have dominance hierarchies, which alter the relationship between weight and fitness. For example Gentle and Gosler (2001) found that, amongst great tits Parus major in Oxfordshire, England, more dominant birds had a lower mass than subdominants, particularly when perceived predation risk was high. Birds with lower masses are better able to take off and therefore escape predators than heavier birds (Krams 2002). However, because of their dominance, they were able to usurp other birds from food resources when hungry. Care should therefore be taken when interpreting results which do not directly examine survival.
Krams, I. (2002) Mass-dependent take-off ability in wintering great tits (Parus major): comparison of top-ranked adult males and subordinate juvenile females. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 51, 345–349.
Gentle, L.K. & Gosler, A.G. (2001) Fat reserves and perceived predation risk in the great tit, Parus major. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences, 268, 487.
Supporting evidence from individual studies
A randomised, replicated and controlled trial on King George Island, Antarctic Peninsula, in the boreal summer of 2000-1 (Ritz 2006) found that female south polar skuas Catharacta maccormicki (also Stercorarius maccormicki) that were fed when raising two chicks lost significantly more weight than control (unfed) females (average loss of 7.9% of body weight for fed pairs vs. 4.6% for controls). There was no such effect in male skuas (average loss of 2.1% of body weight for 27 fed males vs. 5.5% for 27 controls) or if females raising single chicks were included in results (loss of 6.9% of body weight for 27 fed pairs vs. 4.5% for 27 controls). Supplementary food consisted of 25-100 g of fish provided to adults every other day, corresponding to approximately 20% of a chick’s daily energy needs. This study also includes the impact of feeding on chick growth and survival, see ‘Provide supplementary food to increase reproductive success’.