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Chick diet in UK Little Terns Sternula albifrons

Lookup NU author(s): Nick Brodin, Professor Mark WhittinghamORCiD, Dr Richard Francksen



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND).


© 2024 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. Capsule: We studied the diet of Little Tern chicks in the UK using new data collected as part of the EU LIFE-funded Little Tern Recovery Project (2014–2018) (the LIFE Project), which shows that, despite a wide variety of prey items being recorded, diet at UK colonies is dominated by two types of lipid-rich marine fish: sandeel Ammodytes spp. and clupeid species (Atlantic Herring Clupea harengus and European Sprat Sprattus sprattus). Aims: To analyse data on the diet of Little Tern chicks from the LIFE Project and assess what additional insight these provide in comparison to the findings in previous literature. Methods: Timed chick-feeding observations were made at 12 English and Welsh Little Tern colonies between 2014 and 2018 and compared to descriptions of chick diet from other UK studies (published and unpublished). Results: Chick diet data from the LIFE Project were dominated by lipid-rich marine fish, principally sandeels and clupeid species (82% of all recorded prey items). Adult Little Terns feeding chicks with crustaceans or other invertebrates were recorded at 75% of colonies, but there was no evidence that these routinely made up a substantial proportion of chick diet. We found no significant inter-annual differences in diet composition between individual colonies. However, analysis of records of chick diet over a longer time series (Long Nanny colony in Northumberland, with data available for 17 of the years between 1998 and 2018) showed some significant differences in diet composition between years. Conclusion: Although Little Terns are generalist feeders, 82% of the prey diet consisted of two prey types: sandeels and clupeids. This may leave existing UK Little Tern colonies vulnerable to any future climate change impacts affecting either the distribution or nutritional quality of their main prey species.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Brodin N, Whittingham MJ, Francksen R

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Bird Study

Year: 2024

Pages: ePub ahead of Print

Online publication date: 25/03/2024

Acceptance date: 18/01/2024

Date deposited: 17/04/2024

ISSN (print): 0006-3657

ISSN (electronic): 1944-6705

Publisher: Taylor and Francis Ltd


DOI: 10.1080/00063657.2024.2326405


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Funder referenceFunder name
LIFE+Little Tern Recovery Project, EU
LIFE12 NAT/UK/000869