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Christian-Albrechts-University of Kiel

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Seabird Ecology Working Group (SAG)



Research on seabirds and shorebirds


The ecology of birds in the coastal zone has been investigated by the FTZ since its foundation. Since 2001, the research activities have been concentrated on the investigation of seabirds at sea. While many institutions had observed seabirds in their breeding sites since several decades, their ecology at sea - where they spend almost their entire life - was basically unknown. Thanks to new research activities during the last years the state of knowledge on this issue could be improved significantly. This holds particularly true for the investigation of distribution patterns, population sizes, migration patterns and foraging ecology. Since 2007, the research spectrum of the FTZ has been extended to Wadden Sea birds. Although focussing more on wading birds, similar research issues as for seabirds are addressed.

Research issues


1. Distribution and population sizes
Different seabird and shorebird species use different habitats during the course of the seasons for breeding, foraging, resting and for their migration. To investigate these patterns, seabirds are recorded in the offshore zone within the framework of the seabirds at sea programme. The recordings are conducted both from ships and from aircrafts. In the Wadden Sea, recordings of birds on tidal flats during the low water period started in 2007.

2. Habitat choice
Besides basic information on the occurrence and abundance of birds, we are interested in determining which factors and processes may lead to the different, species-specific distribution and behaviour patterns. The influence of meteorological conditions, hydgrographic structures such as fronts and water masses, as well as food availability and sediment structure are of major interest.

3. Food choice and foraging ecology
Different seabird and coastal bird species use different types of prey and exhibit various foraging strategies. An important part of our work comprises the analysis of diet samples of different bird species. The application of data loggers is of increasing importance, i.e. small electronic devices that can be attached to the birds and - after recapturing the birds - can provide data on their geographical position and behaviour. Such devices yield comprehensive data sets and enable fantastic insights into distribution patterns, foraging ecology and migration dynamics of seabirds and shorebirds.

4. Behaviour
There are many different ways in which seabirds and shorebirds might use the offshore habitats and the tidal flats as well as the adjacent coastal mainland. Behavioural investigations are conducted to investigate which areas are used for foraging, in what way the prey is hunted, which diurnal and nocturnal rhythms the birds might exhibit and if there are interactions with other species.

5. Anthropogenic effects
The utilization of both the coastal zone and the offshore areas by humans has increased dramatically during the recent years. Besides fishery, the construction of offshore windfarms, sand and gravel extractions and ship traffic are of major importance. We deal with existing fields of conflict between anthropogenic utilization of the coastal zone and seabirds / shorebirds, evaluate the question of cumulative effects of different kinds of human activities on the present species composition of birds and are involved in the development of management plans.


Study areas


Most of our research is conducted in the open North Sea, the Baltic Sea and the Wadden Sea. The territorial sea (12-nautical mile zone) as well as the EEZ of Germany play a major role. Furthermore, there are studies in an international context in the North-east Atlantic. Several research projects are based in North America (Atlantic off Eastern Canada, Gulf of St. Lawrence, Gulf of Alaska) and in the upwelling regions of South America (Humboldt current) and in southern Africa (Benguela current).


See News for recent presentations and new web sites of the working group.

For more information see Projects.



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