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Species of bird that use their wings for underwater propulsion are thought to face evolutionary trade-offs between flight and diving, leading to the prediction that species with different wing areas relative to body mass (i.e. different wing loadings) also differ in the relative importance of flight and diving activity during foraging trips. We tested this hypothesis for two similarly sized species of Alcidae (common guillemots and razorbills) by using bird-borne devices to examine three-dimensional foraging behaviour at a single colony. Guillemots have 30% higher wing loading than razorbills and, in keeping with this difference, razorbills spent twice as long in flight as a proportion of trip duration whereas guillemots spent twice as long in diving activity. Razorbills made a large number of short, relatively shallow dives and spent little time in the bottom phase of the dive whereas guillemots made fewer dives but frequently attained depths suggesting that they were near the seabed (ca. 35–70 m). The bottom phase of dives by guillemots was relatively long, indicating that they spent considerable time searching for and pursuing prey. Guillemots also spent a greater proportion of each dive bout underwater and had faster rates of descent, indicating that they were more adept at maximising time for pursuit and capture of prey. These differences in foraging behaviour may partly reflect guillemots feeding their chicks single large prey obtained near the bottom and razorbills feeding their chicks multiple prey from the water column. Nonetheless, our data support the notion that interspecific differences in wing loadings of auks reflect an evolutionary trade-off between aerial and underwater locomotion.

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