Carnivorous Great Tits

09/14/2009

Great Tit flickrIn dire times, Mother Nature has equipped some creatures with shocking adaptability.  Take the adorable great tit.  These colorful backyard birds are beloved by bird watchers in Europe and Asia, and are regular visitors to feeders and nesting boxes throughout their range.  Over the last two winters, however, they've revealed a more sinister side.

Great tits normally eat seeds and insects, but ornithologists have discovered that during tough winters when food is exceptionally scarce, these birds have started hunting and killing larger fare: bats.

Despite the fact that great tits only weigh a few ounces and lack talons or hooked beaks for killing, the desperate birds are able to subdue and kill their furry prey.  The pipistrelle bats they feed upon hibernate in the winter and are lethargic, which works to the birds' advantage.  The tits fly into caves and disturb the hibernating bats, which begin to squeak, leading the birds right to them.

This seems rather shocking for such a cute bird, but scientifically speaking, the great tits' aggressive predatory behavior makes perfect sense.  Without it, the species might not be able to survive.

When we anthropomorphize animals and see them only through the filter of human values and traits, we set ourselves up for a shock when a species we have determined is "nice" exhibits behavior that doesn't fit with that stereotype.   

Photo courtesy Flickr user jespahjoy:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/francapicc/ / CC BY 2.0


David Mizejewski is a naturalist with the National Wildlife Federation. His goal is to inspire others to appreciate the wonders of nature. Meet David >
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