Do Eiders eat sea urchins?

Bird Watching (UK) - - Your View -

In Ice­land in mid-march I saw an Ei­der play­ing with what looked like a sea urchin. He dropped it and picked it up four times. Do they ac­tu­ally eat sea urchins? How is he go­ing to cope with the prick­les? Deb­bie Hart, via email

QEiders of­ten eat sea urchins, and spiny ones do feature heav­ily in their diet, along with other hard-shelled food such as mus­sels and crabs. Eiders tend to swal­low most of their prey whole as soon as it is caught, crush­ing the shells with their giz­zards to make the softer in­te­ri­ors avail­able. How­ever, with crabs and urchins they seem to adopt dif­fer­ent tac­tics. With crabs, the ducks will hold a leg, then shake the crab vi­o­lently un­til the body de­taches, then swal­low the leg and re­trieve the rest of the crab be­fore re­peat­ing the process. With urchins the ducks are of­ten seen pick­ing them up, rolling them about in their bills, then drop­ping them be­fore be­gin­ning the process again, only swal­low­ing the urchin af­ter three or four drops. It’s thought that the duck does this to loosen or re­move the spines, which could pos­si­bly cause prob­lems to the Ei­der on the way down.

A

Green Heron Black-necked Stilt

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