Animals can obtain a higher foraging yield by optimizing energy expenditure or minimizing time costs. In this study, we assessed how individual variation in the relative use of marine and terrestrial foraging habitats relates to differences in the energy and time investments of an avian generalistic feeder (the Lesser Black-backed Gull, Larus fuscus), and how this changes during the course of the chick-rearing period.
We analyzed 5 years of GPS tracking data collected at the colony of Zeebrugge (Belgium). Cost proxies for energy expenditure (overall dynamic body acceleration) and time costs (trip durations and time spent away from the colony), together with trip frequency, were analyzed against the relative use of the marine and terrestrial habitats.
The marine habitat was most often used by males and outside weekends, when fisheries are active. Marine trips implied higher energetic costs and lower time investments. As chicks became older, terrestrial trips became more prevalent, and trip frequency reached a peak towards 20 days after hatching of the first egg. Over a full chick rearing period, energy costs varied widely between individuals, but no trends were found across the marine foraging gradient. Conversely, a higher use of marine foraging implied lower overall amounts of time spent away from the colony.
Foraging habitat choice was related to overall time costs incurred by gulls, but not to energy costs. The effect of chick age on foraging habitat choice and effort may be driven by energy expenditure constraints on the amount of marine foraging that can be performed. If time is less constraining to them, Lesser Black-backed Gulls may meet the increasing chick demand for food by switching from high to low energy demanding foraging strategies.