We investigated the distribution and behavior of 21 species of diving birds wintering in tidally active nearshore ocean off southern Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. Using vessel surveys in one site and land-based observations at a second site, we found significant differences in the use of tidally affected water types among and within three foraging guilds (piscivores, plankton feeders and benthic invertebrate predators) and five families (Gaviidae, Podicipedidae, Phalacrocoracidae, Anatidae, Alcidae). The only abundant plankton feeder, Ancient Murrelets (Synthliboramphus antiquus), foraged more frequently than other birds in areas of deeper water (>10 m) with fast tidal flow and turbulence. Their abundance and diving activity were significantly higher at maximum tide flow than at slack tides. Piscivores used both slack water and moderate currents in a wide range of depths but, apart from alcids and Pelagic Cormorants (Phalacrocorax pelagicus), avoided areas of high current and turbulence. Pigeon Guillemots (Cepphus columba) had higher abundance at tide phases with maximum current, and within a channel with strong tidal flow they showed repetitive upstream flights interspersed with downstream diving bouts. Fish-eating mergansers and most diving ducks taking benthic invertebrates foraged in relatively shallow (<10 m) and slack water, and avoided turbulence. Six species representing all three guilds showed changes in the use of depth categories as tides changed between slack and maximum current, and four species changed their behavior in different depth categories. Although there was considerable overlap in foraging niches, the differences in distribution and behavior of guilds, families, and species of diving birds indicate a degree of resource partitioning within tidally-driven water categories during winter.
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Vol. 25 • No. 3