Foraging areas, offshore habitat use, and colony overlap by incubating Leach’s storm-petrels Oceanodroma leucorhoa in the Northwest Atlantic

Document Type


Publication Date

May 2018


Despite their importance in marine food webs, much has yet to be learned about the spatial ecology of small seabirds. This includes the Leach’s storm-petrel Oceanodroma leucorhoa, a species that is declining throughout its Northwest Atlantic breeding range. In 2013 and 2014, we used global location sensors to track foraging movements of incubating storm-petrels from 7 eastern Canadian breeding colonies. We determined and compared the foraging trip and at-sea habitat characteristics, analysed spatial overlap among colonies, and determined whether colony foraging ranges intersected with offshore oil and gas operations. Individuals tracked during the incubation period made 4.0 ± 1.4 day foraging trips, travelling to highly pelagic waters over and beyond continental slopes which ranged, on average, 400 to 830 km from colonies. Cumulative travel distances ranged from ~900 to 2,100 km among colonies. While colony size did not influence foraging trip characteristics or the size of areas used at sea, foraging distances tended to be shorter for individuals breeding at the southern end of the range. Core areas did not overlap considerably among colonies, and individuals from all sites except Kent Island in the Bay of Fundy foraged over waters with median depths > 1,950 m and average chlorophyll a concentrations ≤ 0.6 mg/m3. Sea surface temperatures within colony core areas varied considerably (11–23°C), coincident with the birds’ use of cold waters of the Labrador Current or warmer waters of the Gulf Stream Current. Offshore oil and gas operations intersected with the foraging ranges of 5 of 7 colonies. Three of these, including Baccalieu Island, Newfoundland, which supports the species’ largest population, have experienced substantial declines in the last few decades. Future work should prioritize modelling efforts to incorporate information on relative predation risk at colonies, spatially explicit risks at-sea on the breeding and wintering grounds, effects of climate and marine ecosystem change, as well as lethal and sub-lethal effects of environmental contaminants, to better understand drivers of Leach’s storm-petrel populations trends in Atlantic Canada.