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The development of body mass and mortality in chicks of the common tern sterna hirundo under unfavorable environmental conditions



The development of body mass and mortality in chicks of the common tern sterna hirundo under unfavorable environmental conditions



Vogelwarte 36(2): 110-131



The development of body mass and mortality of Common Tern chicks was studied on the Wadden Sea island of Minsener Oldeoog, Federal Republic of Germany, in 1983 and 1984. The breeding success in 1984 was on average 0.08 fledged birds per clutch (1983: 1.5), which is the worst result in six years of investigation at this site (1981-1986). In 1984 only 3% (1983: 67%) of the hatched chicks fledged finally, 7% (7%) were caught by predators and the remaining 90% (26%) were found dead at the nest. Chicks alive as well as dead chicks showed a high deficit of body mass in 1984 compared to 1983. Their body mass development was severely retarded in 1984: body mass increased insufficiently on many days or even decreased. Most of the mortality occurred in an eight-day-period (23 to 30 June 1984), that started with stormy weather and began about a week after the peak of hatching. During its course, 88% of the chicks died. The age of the dead chicks had the comparatively high median value of 8 days, whereas usually chicks are most likely to die in their first few days of life. The largest decrease in body mass occurred during the period after the storm and effected all age classes of chicks. Most of the dead chicks were lean and had an empty stomach. Some other indirect clues point to a food shortage at that time. The temporal coincidence of high chick mortality with the stormy period was striking, the causes for the mortality are nevertheless hard to name. The proximate factor of death was probably starvation, in some cases perhaps hypothermia. A reduction in the foraging rate of the adult birds due to altered behaviour of the prey species is assumed to be the ultimate factor, perhaps assisted by other factors as the choppy sea surface after the storm.

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Accession: 007882076

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