Friday 23rd July comments: Todays new word is Kleptoparasitism. What a great and wonderful word but what does it mean? Well it is the term that is used when one animal takes prey or other food that was caught or collected by another animal, in other words it is literally theft of food from another bird; its piracy!
So why do we raise this? Well we know seabirds are very good at such behaviour especially Arctic and Great Skuas which thrive by this method as they chase Kittiwakes, Auks and Terns for food as they head back to breeding colonies. We also know that Gulls can harass Puffins for sand-eels as they return from the open sea and even Tern species are known to get involve with piracy as Roseate terns can kleptopartise from other Terns species.
But what about Razorbills?
Razorbills are stunning black and white seabirds which are members of the auk family and nest in good numbers on the Isle of May (over 4,000 pairs nest on the island). However these birds have a more sinister streak than meets the eye as Razorbills also partake in kleptoparasitism on Puffins. Over the last few years observations have revealed that adult Razorbills track down puffins as they fly back towards the Isle of May with food (and can involve more than one razorbill in the hot pursuit) as they chase a Puffin down. This method of foraging has many benefits but it’s fascinating to watch and to see how successful they are. It’s not easy being a seabird and catching prey is just half the battle as they head back to the island to run the gauntlet of the pirates… Puffins beware.