Variation in energy expenditure among black-legged kittiwakes: effects of activity-specific metabolic rates and activity budgets

Physiol Biochem Zool. May-Jun 2003;76(3):375-88. doi: 10.1086/375431.


We sought to determine the effect of variation in time-activity budgets (TABs) and foraging behavior on energy expenditure rates of parent black-legged kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla). We quantified TABs using direct observations of radio-tagged adults and simultaneously measured field metabolic rates (FMR) of these same individuals (n=20) using the doubly labeled water technique. Estimated metabolic rates of kittiwakes attending their brood at the nest or loafing near the colony were similar (ca. 1.3 x basal metabolic rate [BMR]), although loafing during foraging trips was more costly (2.9 x BMR). Metabolic rates during commuting flight (7.3 x BMR) and prey-searching flight (6.2 x BMR) were similar, while metabolic rates during plunge diving were much higher (ca. 47 x BMR). The proportion of the measurement interval spent foraging had a positive effect on FMR (R2=0.68), while the combined proportion of time engaged in nest attendance and loafing near the colony had a negative effect on FMR (R2=0.72). Thus, more than two-thirds of the variation in kittiwake FMR could be explained by the allocation of time among various activities. The high energetic cost of plunge diving relative to straight flight and searching flight suggests that kittiwakes can optimize their foraging strategy under conditions of low food availability by commuting long distances to feed in areas where gross foraging efficiency is high.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Alaska
  • Animals
  • Basal Metabolism / physiology*
  • Birds / metabolism
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Carbon Dioxide / blood
  • Diving / physiology
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology*
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology
  • Flight, Animal / physiology
  • Nesting Behavior / physiology
  • Time Factors


  • Carbon Dioxide