Quantifying variation in diet over time and space is important for understanding patterns of habitat use in marine birds. Diet composition of adult male White-winged Scoters (Melanitta fusca) was quantified at five study sites in coastal British Columbia and Washington during mid-winter (December) and late winter (February-— March). At four sites where White-winged Scoters fed in nearshore areas, diet varied little between winter periods and birds fed almost exclusively on large infaunal bivalves (≥85% of mean ash-free dry mass of esophagus contents for each season × site combination). The main prey of White-winged Scoters in intertidal foraging areas (N = 3 of 5 study sites) were Varnish clams (Nuttalia obscurata), which were introduced to the region within the last 25 years. At an offshore site, diet consisted mainly of bivalves except during one period when White-winged Scoters had consumed mainly fish, crustaceans, polychaetes and echinoderms. Greater temporal variation in diet at the offshore site may have been an effect of reduced time available to locate preferred prey items and lower predictability of prey distributions owing to this site's greater exposure to wind and waves. However, neither exposure nor water depth received appreciable support in models of the dietary fraction of bivalves across sites and periods. Our results underscore the importance of marine areas with high densities of infaunal bivalves to White-winged Scoters, but also show that White-winged Scoters exhibit flexibility to adjust diet in response to differences in prey composition across habitats.
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Vol. 35 • No. 4