Breeding seabirds have been well studied but seabird ecology during the nonbreeding season is poorly understood because many species disperse far from breeding colonies to molt at sea. We characterized the timing of prebasic molt and postbreeding dispersal, described postbreeding dispersal movements, and estimated changes in body mass during molt for Marbled Murrelets (Brachyramphus marmoratus; Alcidae) in central California, 1999–2004. According to mark–recapture and at-sea surveys, 248–315 of 496–637 individuals (43–50%) used Año Nuevo Bay, located immediately adjacent to nesting areas, for their prebasic molt in August–October. Long-distance dispersal (≥ 100 km) from Año Nuevo Bay by radiomarked Marbled Murrelets was low during breeding (9–13%, n = 46), but was greater for individuals radiomarked at the end of the breeding season (69–90%, n = 20). The mean dispersal dates were 18 May and 21 October for the breeding and postbreeding samples, respectively, and postbreeding dispersal occurred an average of two weeks after molt completion. Mean dispersal distances were 184 km and 256 km in the breeding and postbreeding periods, respectively. Of 12 long-distance dispersers, all moved south except one. Marbled Murrelets gained mass during molt (n = 184), except during a moderate El Niño event in 2002 when mass remained constant. However, birds did not take longer to molt in 2002, which suggests that individuals allocated more energy reserves to molt processes in that year. Apparently, sufficient prey resources were available in Año Nuevo Bay for both basic metabolic requirements and the demands of molt, even when water was moderately warm.
Efectos de la Muda Rápida de las Plumas de Vuelo Sobre la Dispersión Post-Reproductiva en un Ave Marina que se Zambulle para Perseguir Presas