We studied the feeding ecology of little tTerns Sterna albifrons, sandwich terns S. sandvicensis and royal terns S. maxima in the Archipélago dos Bijagós (11°40'N, 15°45'W) in Guinea-Bissau (West Africa) during the winter of 1992/1993. More than 95 of all prey taken by these terns were roundfish, ranging in weight from 0.3 to 40 g. Birds usually fed alone, but sometimes they were observed feeding in mixed-species flocks consisting of 15-200 individuals. Capture rate (n fish per hour foraging) in these flocks was higher than that of solitary birds. However, smaller fish were caught by birds foraging in flocks, so food intake rate (g/h) did not differ between solitary and flock-feeding birds. The relationships between foraging behaviour of the three tern species and abiotic factors, such as time, tide and water clarity, have been investigated. Capture rate of royal terns increased with water clarity. For little terns and sandwich terns, food intake rate was lower in the most turbid waters compared to clearer waters. There was very little foraging activity during high tide. For little terns and royal terns, food intake rate was about twice as high during receding and low tides as during an incoming tide. Food intake rate averaged 8 g/h in little terns, 60 g/h in sandwich terns and 45 g/h in royal terns. With a rough model, we estimate the maximum rate of daily energy expenditure of terns wintering in the tropics at 3 x BMR (defined as energy expenditure of inactive bird at thermoneutrality in a post-absorptive state during the resting phase of the daily cycle). From an energetic viewpoint, wintering sandwich terns in Guinea-Bissau seem to have an easy living.
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