The movement ecology of a breeding seabird
: An investigation using accelerometry

  • Philip Collins

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Animal movement is a ubiquitous process and can have consequences ranging from an individual’s energy expenditure to ecosystem dynamics. This study uses biologgers, primarily accelerometers, to record and examine the at-sea behaviours of black-legged kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla) during their breeding period.
Accelerometers record the acceleration of an instrumented animal to give an indication of their behaviour and movements, yet their output can be particularly difficult to interpret. As such, this thesis begins with a method developed for the assignation of coarse-scale behaviours to accelerometry data. The method is a simple yet objective approach intended to be widely applicable. Using this method, we construct time-activity budgets for incubating and chick-rearing kittiwakes and apply activity-specific estimates of energy expenditure to these behaviours. We identify how kittiwakes allocate their time and what the energetic consequences of variation in time-allocation are. We present empirical evidence for chick-rearing kittiwakes expending more energy than incubating birds and identify that kittiwakes exhibit behavioural compensation whereby they limit energy expenditure across both foraging trips and days.
We also examine the flight behaviour of kittiwakes in relation to extrinsic conditions. We find that wind conditions do not seem to influence broader scale patterns in movements during foraging trips, however kittiwakes do display behavioural plasticity in response to wind conditions by optimising their flight speeds towards maximum range speeds. We also identify that to optimise flight speeds, kittiwakes change the strength at which they flap their wings, rather than the frequency.
Finally we present a serendipitous observation of predation of kittiwake chicks by a peregrine falcon. Although not directly related to movement ecology, this study documents novel predatory behaviour and highlights the importance of biological forces other than movement. Overall, the work presented in this thesis demonstrates that by examining the movement of individuals, it is possible to gain insights into various important aspects of their biology.
Date of Award12 Feb 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Roehampton
SupervisorLewis Halsey (Supervisor) & Peter Shaw (Supervisor)


  • Seabird, movement ecology, accelerometry, biologging, energetics, animal behaviour, timeactivity, budgets

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