Seabird feedback helps tern a corner

Sooty terns off the WA coast. Picture: C. Surman
Sooty terns off the WA coast. Picture: C. Surman

The Northern Agricultural Catchments Council is co-ordinating research by experts from the Conservation Council of WA (CCWA), Department of Fisheries, seabird biologists Jill Shephard and Chris Surman, and the University of Amsterdam.

CCWA citizen science co-ordinator Nic Dunlop said the project team recently trialled methodology by fitting tiny radio trackers to two sooty terns at the Abrolhos Islands.

The birds spent days feeding out at sea and when they returned to land, GPS information was automatically downloaded.

‘The initial tracking data shows that the two sooty terns fed in completely different locations,’ Dr Dunlop said.

‘This was unexpected and might indicate that two different foraging strategies are employed by these birds during chick rearing, known as ‘bi-modal foraging’.

‘If this proves to be the case, it will be the first time this behaviour has been discovered in a tern species.’

At the start of the next breeding season, later this year, they will fit more trackers to sooty terns at the Abrolhos Islands and to brown noddies at Lancelin Island.

The researchers plan to collect tracking data over several breeding seasons. They are holding a community presentation and workshop in Geraldton tomorrow.