Eiders Somateria mollissima scavenging behind a lugworm boat

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The eider is one of the most important molluscivorous birds in the Wadden Sea, where it feeds mainly on blue mussels Mytilus edulis and edible cockles Cerastoderma edule. These prey species are within reach of the birds at all times. Other potential prey of suitable size that are abundantly present, such as several polychaete worms, or the clam Mya arenaria, are taken to a much lesser extent, possibly because they live buried in the sediment and digging them out would take too much effort. Mya may pose another problem because they grow to sizes that prevent eiders from swallowing them. Large Mya also live too deep down in the sediment, but young (small) specimens should be available to eiders. Yet, even these have only rarely been found as prey in eiders in the Wadden Sea. However, diet studies in relation to food abundance have been few, and may have missed prey that do not leave large shell fragments (i.e. in faeces studies). This paper describes observations on eiders taking both Mya and polychaete worms. The eiders fed on these prey in a fashion reminiscent of gulls that scavenge behind fishing vessels: some eiders have learnt to follow professional worm-digging boats that supply a bycatch of molluscs (mainly Mya arenaria) and polychaete worms(mainly Arenicola marina and Nephtys hombergii). Mya and worms were also the main targets of the eiders that fed in a dense flock close to the boat's stern. Faeces found on the flats at low tide comprised mainly cockle shell fragments, a prey rarely taken by the eiders behind the boat. Faeces studies may thus give a highly biased impression of local eider diet.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-82
JournalJournal of Sea Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2002


  • fauna


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