Changes in nesting-habitat use of large gulls breeding in Witless Bay, Newfoundland

G. J. Robertson, D. Fifield, M. Massaro, J. W. Chardine

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26 Citations (Scopus)


We counted herring gull (Larus argentatus) and great black-backed gull (Larus marinus) nests in the Witless Bay Seabird Ecological Reserve in southeastern Newfoundland, Canada, in 1999 and 2000 and compared our results with previous nest counts from the 1970s. On Gull Island, herring gull nest numbers were 27.5% (1999) and 30.0% (2000) lower than in 1979. Similarly, on Great Island, by 2000 the numbers of herring gull nests had declined 40.8% from numbers in 1979. Counts of great black-backed gull nests were more variable, but suggest a slight or no reduction since 1979. Numbers of herring gulls nesting in rocky and puffin-slope habitats were much reduced (50-70%), while numbers nesting in meadows and forests have actually increased since the 1970s. Great black-backed gulls showed a similar change in nesting distribution. For herring gulls, these changes in nesting numbers matched differences in reproductive success previously documented in these habitats. We suggest that the decline in gull numbers and the change in breeding-habitat selection were caused by changes in the food availability for gulls. Reduced amounts of fisheries offal and the delayed arrival onshore of capelin (Mallotus villosus), an important fish prey species for gulls, have all likely led to the decline in gull reproductive output. Gulls nesting in meadows and forests may be maintaining adequate reproductive output by focusing on alternative prey, such as adult Leach's storm-petrels (Oceanodroma leucorhoa), rather than scarce refuse and fish.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2159-2167
Number of pages9
JournalCanadian Journal of Zoology
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2001


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