Spatio-temporal trends in the predation of large gulls by peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus) in an insular breeding population

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Abstract

Individual diet specialization occurs in many populations of generalist predators, with specific individuals developing specialist strategies in their feeding behaviour. Intraspecific resource partitioning is hypothesised to be common amongst species in higher trophic levels where competition for resources is intense, and a key driver in breeding success and community structure. Though well-studied in other predators, there is sparse data on ecological specialization in raptors, which are important drivers of community and trophic structure. In this study, the breeding season diet of an insular population of peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus) was determined from indirect analysis of prey remains collected over three years. An unexpected result was the high proportion of large gulls (Laridae), of the genus Larus, in the diet of two breeding pairs of peregrines. Large gulls made up 18.44% by frequency of total prey recorded and 30.81% by biomass. Herring gulls (Larus argentatus) were the most common large gull prey, with immatures most frequent (67.95%) compared to adults (19.23%). Overall, most gulls predated were immatures (80.77%). Frequency of predation varied between breeding pairs and months, but was consistent over the three years. Most gulls were taken in April (37.17%), followed by May (19.23%), with a smaller peak of immature herring gulls taken in August and September. The pattern of regular predation by peregrines on large gulls is a new observation with important implications for understanding individual diet specialization in raptors, and its effect on bird populations and community structure.

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