Birds are known to modify their foraging behavior in relation to food availability. Once understood, these relationships can be used to draw inferences about relative food availability and habitat quality. We measured foraging behavior of Surf Scoters (Melanitta perspicillata) and White-winged Scoters (M. fusca) feeding on clams during winter in the Strait of Georgia, British Columbia, to evaluate the relative quality of the foraging landscape for wintering scoters. Because clam biomass does not increase appreciably during winter through growth or recruitment, scoters are faced with a depleting and potentially exhaustible food supply. Along with this temporal variation, clam densities vary widely by site. We considered the influence of variation in clam density on scoter foraging behavior, along with other factors known to affect foraging in other sea duck species, such as season, sex, age, and environmental attributes. Clam-capture success (clams captured per dive) and foraging effort (minutes underwater per hour) of Surf Scoters were not related to variation in clam density. Clam-capture success of White-winged Scoters was unrelated to clam density; however, their foraging effort was negatively related to clam density, though varying by only 4 min across the range of observed clam densities. For both species, foraging behavior was generally more strongly related to other factors, especially seasonal and age effects. These results suggest that (1) observed variation in clam density was relatively minor from the perspective of foraging scoters and (2) our study site constituted high-quality winter habitat in which scoters were not constrained by food availability.
Comportamiento de Forrajeo de Melanitta perspicillata y M. fusca con Relación a la Densidad de Almejas: Inferencias sobre la Disponibilidad de Alimento y la Calidad del Hábitat