Breeding and foraging ecology of Caspian terns nesting on artificial islands in the Upper Klamath Basin, California Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/pv63g325b

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  • Availability of suitable nesting habitat that is free of nest predators and provides access to adequate prey resources within commuting distance is a major factor limiting seabird populations. Caspian terns (Hydroprogne caspia) in western North America have shifted their breeding habitat from naturally occurring habitats in interior wetlands, lakes, and rivers to primarily human-created habitats in coastal bays and estuaries. This shift has brought Caspian terns into conflict with fisheries of conservation concern, in particular anadromous salmonids. Prior to the 2010 breeding season, three artificial islands were built in the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) Complex as alternative nesting habitat for Caspian terns currently nesting at the world's largest colony for the species, near the mouth of the Columbia River, Oregon. I investigated the efficacy of habitat creation (island building) and social attraction (decoys and recorded vocalizations) for establishing new breeding colonies in the Upper Klamath Basin, California. In 2010, approximately 258 pairs of Caspian terns attempted to nest on the new islands and raised an average of 0.65 fledglings/breeding pair; in 2011, 222 pairs attempted to nest and raised an average of 0.11 fledglings/breeding pair. Competition with California and ring-billed gulls (Larus californicus and L. delawarensis) for nesting space, gull predation on Caspian tern eggs and chicks, low water levels, and depredation by great horned owls (Bubo virginianus) were the primary factors limiting colony development and productivity, especially in 2011. The immediate response by Caspian terns to habitat creation and social attraction in the Upper Klamath Basin demonstrates that these can be effective restoration techniques to establish new breeding colonies where nesting habitat is a major limiting factor; however, continued management of other limiting factors (e.g., control of on-colony predators and competitors) will likely be necessary to promote the development of established, self-sustaining breeding colonies on these artificial islands. Efforts to conserve and restore seabird colonies can be compromised by low prey availability within foraging distance of the breeding colony. I used GPS telemetry to study the fine-scale foraging behavior of Caspian terns nesting at two newly established colonies and cluster analysis to discriminate behavioral states based on movement characteristics. Terns breeding at the Sheepy Lake colony spent less time at the colony (52% of the day) than terns breeding at the Tule Lake colony (74%). Caspian terns breeding at Sheepy Lake foraged more extensively than terns breeding at Tule Lake; the foraging trips of Sheepy Lake terns lasted longer (median = 186 min) and were longer-distance (27 km) compared to those of Tule Lake terns (55 min and 6 km, respectively). Between-colony differences in foraging behavior corresponded to 5% lower average body mass of breeding adults and significantly lower size-adjusted body mass of chicks at the Sheepy Lake colony compared to the Tule Lake colony. Proximity to high-quality foraging areas influenced the foraging behavior and parental care of breeding Caspian terns, which in turn had effects on nesting success. The successful use of GPS telemetry to study the fine-scale foraging behavior of Caspian terns represents a significant advance in our ability to investigate the foraging ecology of this species and other moderate-sized seabirds.
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