This material has been published in the Journal of Ornithology (2012, 153: 979-983), the only definitive repository of the content that has been certified and accepted after peer review. Copyright and all rights therein are retained by the publishers.

Over-representation of bird prey in pellets of South Polar Skuas

M. Mercedes Santos, Mariana A. Juáres, Emilce F. Rombolá, Mirta L. García, Néstor R. Coria, and C. Patrick Doncaster

We report the first study to compare the contents of pellets and regurgitates of South Polar Skuas, Stercorarius maccormicki, at two breeding colonies on the Antarctic Peninsula. Samples were taken across years from identified breeding pairs at Potter Peninsula in sympatry with 30-40 breeding pairs of Brown Skuas, Stercorarius antarcticus lonnbergi, and from Cierva Point with 2 pairs of Brown Skuas. In contrast to the general consensus that penguins feature in the diet most prominently in the absence of Brown Skuas, we found a much more frequent occurrence of penguin remains in samples at Potter than Cierva, but only in pellets. At Cierva, penguin feathers were largely replaced in the pellets by a high frequency of non-food moss. The rare occurrence of penguins in regurgitates from both sites is consistent with scavenging rather than active predation. The high frequency of feathers in pellets at Potter is consistent with a gut-cleansing function similar to that performed by moss, which is abundant only at Cierva. We conclude that pellets over-represent penguins in the diet. For any species that consumes feathers, the evidence must consider the alternative possibility of a non-food function of ingesting feathers.

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