Behavioral Responses to Decreasing Day Length in Wintering Sea Ducks

Systad, Geir H.
Bustnes, Jan O.
Erikstad, Kjell E.
Dept of Zoology and Ecology - Institute of Biology and Ecology
University of Tromso - Norway
Norwegian Institute of Nature Research - Dept of Arctic Ecology
The Polar Environmental Center
Publication Date: 

Behavioral Responses to Decreasing Day Length in Wintering Sea Ducks
Geir H. Systad, Jan O. Bustnes and Kjell E. Erikstad
The Auk
Vol. 117, No. 1 (Jan., 2000), pp. 33-40
(article consists of 8 pages)
Sea ducks generally are diurnal feeders, but large numbers winter above the Arctic Circle where day lengths decrease dramatically in winter. To determine how sea ducks cope with short day lengths, we studied different aspects of the behavior of three sympatric wintering species (Common Eider [Somateria mollissima], King Eider [S. spectabilis], and Oldsquaw [Clangula hyemalis]) at 70°N where day length is reduced to less than 4.5 h of twilight in midwinter. Numbers of both eider species remained fairly constant throughout winter, whereas Oldsquaws moved out of the area in midwinter. As day length decreased, eiders extended their feeding period into lower light intensities. Common Eiders and Oldsquaws spent a higher proportion of the day diving (underwater) when days were short, whereas King Eiders did not. As the days lengthened, King Eiders and Oldsquaws increased their total time diving at similar rates, which were faster than those of Common Eiders. Feeding at lower light intensities and increased proportions of time spent diving did not offset reduced feeding time in midwinter, and estimated time spent underwater during daylight on the shortest days was only 35% of that on the longest days in King Eiders, 51% in Common Eiders, and 39% in Oldsquaws. The ability to survive when days are short might be explained by use of stored nutrient reserves, night feeding, or high prey availability.