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The behaviour of Avocets Recurvirostra avosetta feeding on emerged intertidal areas in a major wintering area, the Tagus estuary (Portugal), was studied during 2 years.

Avocets used four different feeding strategies. By far the most common was the Normal Feeding Strategy, in which the median sweeping rate was 28 sweeps per min and the percentage of swallowing movements (ingestions) was very high (median = 90%). No prey were visible in the bill while birds were using this strategy. Another less common feeding strategy was the Worm Feeding Strategy, in which the sweeping rate was higher (median = 46 sweeps/min) and the percentage of swallowing movements was much lower (median = 6%). While using the Worm Feeding Strategy, Avocets preyed on ragworms Nereis diversicolor. The Mixed Feeding Strategy and Scrobicularia plana Siphons Feeding Strategy were rarely observed.

In a detailed study on the use of the mudflats by Avocets, it was found that the density of birds on the upper shore was much higher than on the lower shore. There were differences in feeding behaviour between these two areas, although the same feeding strategy was used. On the lower shore, where there was a lower biomass of prey available, sweeping rates were higher and aggressive behaviour did not occur. On the upper shore, sweeping rates were lower and aggressive behaviour was frequent, with some birds defending territories. Nevertheless, estimated food intake rates were 1.5 times higher on the upper shore.