Diet and prey size preference in Razorbills Alca torda breeding at Stora Karlsö, Sweden




auk, Alcidae, Clupeidae, sprat, Sprattus sprattus, Baltic Sea


The Razorbill Alca torda is one of three auk species breeding in Sweden, often occurring in colonies with Common Guillemot Uria aalge. The largest colony in the Baltic Sea is situated on the island Stora Karlsö west of Gotland. During the chick-rearing phase, Razorbills forage at sea and return to feed the young with single or multiple prey carried sideways in the bill, unlike Common Guillemots that carry a single fish in the middle of the bill. Clupeids, especially sprat Sprattus sprattus, are the main prey of Baltic Sea Razorbills, but studies are scarce. Here, we investigate the diet preference of Razorbills at Stora Karlsö with regard to prey taxonomy and size, analysing photographs and applying morphometric equations. We show that most feeding attempts involved a single clupeid (88% of known fish taxonomy), in most cases likely sprat. The average prey size (115 mm) and prey species was similar to that of Common Guillemots in the same colony. The variation in size was much smaller in the Razorbill diet than the size distribution of clupeids at sea, indicating a strong prey size selectivity. The Razorbills’ high specialisation underlines the importance of maintaining strong populations of clupeids in their foraging area, as these fish are also targeted by industrial fisheries.


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How to Cite

Engvall, E., Waldenström, J., & Hentati-Sundberg, J. (2023). Diet and prey size preference in Razorbills Alca torda breeding at Stora Karlsö, Sweden. Ornis Svecica, 32, 87–98.



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