Ventura, F., Catry, P., Dias, M. P., Breed, G. A., Folch, A., & Granadeiro, J. P. (2022). A central place foraging seabird flies at right angles to the wind to jointly optimize locomotor and olfactory search efficiency. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 289(1981), 20220895. https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2022.0895
To increase the probability of detecting odour plumes, and so increase prey capture success, when winds are stable central place foraging seabirds should fly crosswind to maximize the round-trip distance covered. At present, however, there is no empirical evidence of this theoretical prediction. Here, using an extensive GPS tracking dataset, we investigate, for the first time, the foraging movements of Bulwer's petrels (Bulweria bulwerii) in the persistent North Atlantic trade winds. To test the hypotheses that, in stable winds, petrels use crosswind to maximize both the distance covered and the probability of detecting olfactory cues, we combine state-space models, generalized additive models and Gaussian plume models. Bulwer's petrels had the highest degree of selectivity for crosswinds documented to date, often leading to systematic zig-zag flights. Crosswinds maximized both the distance travelled and the probability of detecting odour plumes integrated across the round-trip (rather than at any given point along the route, which would result in energetically costly return flight). This evidence suggests that petrels plan round-trip flights at departure, integrating expected costs of homeward journeys. Our findings, which are probably true for other seabirds in similar settings, further highlight the critical role of wind in seabird foraging ecology.