We documented the movement and distribution patterns of wintering Surf Scoters (Melanitta perspicillata) and White-winged Scoters (Melanitta fusca) in relation to herring spawn events in the Strait of Georgia, British Columbia. Radio-telemetry and surveys were conducted in Baynes Sound, an important wintering area where scoters feed primarily on clams. In early March, herring spawn events in areas adjacent to Baynes Sound provide a short-term pulse of abundant and easily accessible food, which could affect habitat use by wintering scoters from Baynes Sound. Radio-marked Surf Scoters and White-winged Scoters exhibited limited movements during winter, in contrast to the spring herring spawn season, when both scoter species moved greater distances to access herring eggs. Most individuals were located near spawning locations at least once during the spawning season, and the majority of telemetry locations were close to spawning sites, with Surf Scoters showing a higher association with spawn for both metrics. A marked decrease (66-98%) in the abundance of both scoter species in Baynes Sound was observed coincident with spawn initiation in adjacent sites. We conclude that scoters altered their movement and habitat use patterns in spring to take advantage of herring roe, an energy-rich food source. This dramatic change in behaviour suggests that herring spawn may be of particular importance to these species.
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Vol. 31 • No. 3