How do seabirds find their food?

My PhD research, currently in full swing, is on the foraging behavior and movement ecology of fish-eating seabirds. I am working on Great Gull Island, NY, a 17-acre speck of land off the north fork of Long Island:

During the summer months, Great Gull Island is home to around 20,000 common terns (Sterna hirundo) and maybe 2,000 of their endangered relatives, the roseate terns (Sterna dougalii). They arrive there from South America in April and May to breed. By August, their chicks are fledged and all are leaving for the other hemisphere again.

I am using a modified boat radar to study the terns, tracking them as they fly out from the island in search of the small fish that make up their diet. At the same time, I am using a standard scientific echosounder, mounted on an outboard skiff, to survey the distribution of those fish around the island. The goal is to better understand how the terns find their food in the large, flat, mostly featureless expanse of the coastal ocean.

I spent a good portion of the summer of 2014 on Great Gull Island, and hope to return in the summer of 2015. In the meantime, I will be writing about some of my experiences and ideas relating to this project right here. Stay tuned!

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