Sneaky Thieves Steal Hair From Foxes, Raccoons, Dogs, Even You

As anybody who has ever tried to eat french fries on a seaside will attest, stealing just isn’t an unusual habits amongst birds. In reality, many birds are fairly expert at daring and brazen theft.

Scientists have documented a number of species of birds, together with magpies, bowerbirds, and black kites, looting every little thing from discarded plastic to costly jewellery to brighten their nests. And then there are birds who need hair, and can go to nice lengths to get their beaks on it.

Hair from canine, raccoons and even people has been discovered within the nests of birds, which scientists imagine makes the nests higher insulated. For a very long time, scientists assumed that birds needed to gather hair that had been shed or scavenge it from mammal carcasses. However, a brand new examine, published last week in the journal Ecology, reveals that a number of species of fowl, together with chickadees and titmice, don’t simply scavenge hair, they steal it.

The examine, based mostly largely on evaluation of YouTube movies, reveals quite a few examples of birds pulling tufts of hair from dwelling mammals, together with people. This phenomenon, which the examine’s authors have known as “kleptotrichy,” has been well-documented by birders on the internet, however that is the primary time scientists have formally acknowledged it.

“This is just another example of something that was overlooked in the scientific literature but was common knowledge in the bird watching and bird feeding community,” stated Henry Pollock, a postdoctoral researcher in ornithology on the University of Illinois and co-author of the brand new examine.

Last spring, Dr. Pollock was taking part in his college’s annual spring fowl depend when a tufted titmouse caught his eye. It was flitting close to a raccoon sleeping soundly on a tree department, inching nearer and nearer to it. Then, to Dr. Pollock’s amusement, the tiny fowl started plucking tufts of the raccoon’s fur. The titmouse managed to steal over 20 beak-fulls of the raccoon’s fur with out waking it.

After witnessing this lovable act of thievery, Dr. Pollock started scouring the scientific literature to see if one thing related had ever been documented.

He solely discovered 11 recorded circumstances of birds stealing hair from dwelling mammals, which included stories of honeyeaters plucking hairs from koalas and one observation from 1946 of a titmouse plucking hair from a crimson squirrel’s tail. Dissatisfied, Dr. Pollock began looking for examples of this habits outdoors of the scientific literature. This proved way more fruitful. A easy search on YouTube yielded practically 100 movies of birds making off with the fur of mammals. Ninety-three % of the movies Dr. Pollock discovered depicted tufted titmice plucking hair from home canine and humans (with out a whole lot of success in that case).

The remaining seven % of movies featured Parids, the household of birds that features tits, chickadees and titmice, sneaking up and stealing hair from raccoons, cats, dogs and in a single video, a North American porcupine. It turned clear to Dr. Pollock that this habits was not solely widespread, significantly amongst Parids, however it was additionally well-known amongst those that are captivated with birds.

“I’ve seen it personally,” stated Daniel Baldassarre, an assistant professor at SUNY Oswego who research the behavioral ecology of city birds. “I used to live somewhere where I had bird feeders on my porch railings and my yellow lab would sit out on the deck and chickadees would land on him and pull his fur right off,” stated Dr. Baldassarre, who was not concerned within the examine. “It’s the cutest thing you’ve ever seen.”

Dr. Baldassarre isn’t shocked that kleptotrichy seems to be widespread amongst Parids as a result of the birds on this household are “the type of species that would figure this behavior out. They’re very bold, exploratory and smart.”

Both Dr. Baldassarre and Dr. Pollock suspect that the birds committing these acts of theft to insulate their nests. Tufted titmice and different Parids “nest in early spring when the weather is still pretty cold, so being able to keep the nest warm is definitely important,” Dr. Baldassarre stated. A survey of scientific literature about 51 Parid species’ nests discovered mammal hair in 44. The seven species with fur-free nests all stay in areas with hotter climates.

Dr. Pollock hopes that additional analysis will assist scientists decide the prices and advantages of kleptotrichy and decide how widespread it’s amongst birds. He additionally hopes that this examine will exhibit the worth of group data and different nontraditional sources of knowledge.

“As a scientist, you have to be open to exploring alternative sources of information. I think that the utility of the popular literature is often underappreciated, and the bird-watching community especially is often underappreciated.”

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