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Great tits eat bats in times of need
Date:9/25/2009

This release is available in German.

Necessity is the mother of invention: Great Tits eat hibernating common pipistrelle bats under harsh conditions of snow cover. This remarkable newly-acquired behaviour was observed by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen and their colleagues in a cave in Hungary. When the researchers offered the birds alternative feed, they ate it and showed little or no interest in flying into the cave again. (Biology Letters, online prepublication from September 9, 2009).

Reports on the ingenuity of birds of the tit family in their search for food go as far back as the 1940s when it was observed that Blue Tits in the British Isles had learned how to open the aluminium tops of milk bottles left on doorsteps by milkmen to get at the cream that had formed on top of the milk. Another astonishing acquired behaviour among Great Tits (Parus major) has now been observed by the researchers working with Bjrn Siemers from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and their Hungarian colleagues. On 21 observation days over two winters, Great Tits flew a total of 18 times into a cave in north-east Hungary to look for and eat the Common Pipistrelle bats (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) hibernating there. The researchers explain this behaviour with the extreme necessity they faced in their search for food. Great Tits eat insects or arachnids in summer and usually look for seeds and berries in winter. Winters in north-east Hungary can be very harsh, however, with closed snow cover.

The observed cave had a large entrance. Therefore, a small amount of light penetrated into it and the birds were able to find their way around in the semi-darkness. The birds probably locate the bats in the cave through the sounds that hibernating animals make when disturbed and awoken. These sounds rang
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Contact: Dr. Bjrn M. Siemers
siemers@orn.mpg.de
49-815-793-2348
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Source:Eurekalert  

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