Saturday, May 16, 2020

Great Tits!


Social media have allowed us to be so familiar with each other that I sometimes get the same link sent to me by numerous people. "Salamander poop," thirty different individuals might say. "I know who would like a picture of that!"

Recently I was multiply blessed with a link to an article featuring what at first glance appeared to be a jaundiced chickadee standing astride a wombat.

The bird in question was not, however, a chickadee, but a great tit, and it was not so much a wombat as a vole. This does not mean a great tit cannot take down a wombat but they are never in the same continent at the same time, so we have yet to observe it.

Black-capped chickadees like Marge and Studley Windowson are great tits also, maybe the greatest in many ways, but we are not to call them great tits, because that title is taken. Great tits live in Europe and are related to Cinereous Tits and Japanese Tits but not so much Turkestan Tits, although there is controversy. Ornithologists can come to blows over such things.

Coming to blows, however, is not what many people think of when they think of songbirds, preferring to consider them passive packages of good will. They are adorable, sweet-singing, and swell-hearted, we think, and not capable of the sort of predatory violence that will net them a dinner of vole brains.

That is because people generally aren't paying attention to birds at all. Birds are not all confining themselves to striking terror in the sunflower patch. 

Studley Windowson, one of the greatest birds of all time, is no vegetarian. He's delicate with seeds, withdrawing them one at a time and neatly cutting them up for himself before going in for seconds, but hand him a mealworm and he will pin the unfortunate larva down with one foot and tear off segments at the dotted line until he reaches the end.

It's not actually known if the great tit in the photograph took down the vole by itself or if it just happened upon the carcass, but it is known that it pecked into its head for the brains. Brains are the creamy filling in the corpse Twinkie. And they're not even that particular about whether the brain donor is dead or not. It is known that the great tit will prey on hibernating bats, always drilling through to their brains. Evidently bats sleep hard.

Marge, the "little woman"
None of this violence should be any surprise to anyone with access to a jay. Our local scrub jays are not remotely afraid of me or anything else. They ought to lose a fight with their larger cousins the crows, but crows give them a wide berth also. They may be bigger, but they're not psychopaths like the jays. The jays have their shivs out all the time and they'll come at you screeching like the shower scene in Psycho. (Thanks to reader Mary Jansen, who first pointed this out, I can never hear them any other way.) They land right next to me when I'm gardening in case I turn up a larva and I always flip it to them, because I do not like the way they size up my eyeballs.

And of course you have your shrikes that not only kill frogs and mice and whatnot but spear them on a thorn to eat later and also to let the general population know who's in charge. A rodent will never vote to impeach a shrike no matter how much evidence you pile up.

And then, Lord. The bushtits. The bushtits are very tiny members of the Tit family and plenty murderous in their own right. They may be no bigger than a fuzzy ping pong ball but they always, always travel in gangs and they will work together to flush a herd of aphids and pick off the old and lame ones. You only think they're cute because you're not a bug and don't go to their meetings.

Then you have your vampire finches. They land on boobies and peck on them and drink their blood. Presumably this all started when the finches were going for mites in the boobies' feathers and then they sort of evolutionarily got carried away. And the boobies don't even mind. That's how itchy they are.

Meanwhile, great tits have been known to attack the tissues of recently hanged people. This has caused me to revise my wishes for the disposal of my body. I would like to be strung up in the woods somewhere and nibbled on by chickadees. See that it happens, people.

32 comments:

  1. Sorry, Murr, by the time I could make it to your neck of the woods, the Jays will have gotten to you and scared off the chickadees. Good thought, though!

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    1. The chickadees are dee-dee-deeing like mad at the scrub jays around here but the jays don't seem to be at all impressed.

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    2. It’s mocking birds and thrashers we watch out for. I had one mocker dive at me kamikaze fashion repeatedly, because I had the temerity to put my garden near its nest. I finally had to carry an umbrella to pick the hornworms off my tomatoes. It just got to be too much for me.

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    3. Ooo! Tomato hornworms! My sister introduced me to them. She told me to find them on the plants. I couldn't find any. She starts pointing them out--dozens of them, the size of a man's thumb. Dang, they're good.

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  2. So many birds punch well above their weight. Our wattle birds are happy to fly aggressively at other birds (regardless of size), cats, dogs and people. I 'think' they are vegetarian but the other birds are taking no chances, perhaps assuming that the wattle birds are after a redder kind of nectar.
    I rather like the idea of being bird rather than worm fodder too.

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    1. Hey, I think I saw wattle birds in NZ. Right?

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    2. They are Australian natives - but you might have. Most of our other exports to New Zealand are not welcome though (possums, magpies...)

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  3. What serendipity to happen to read this post whilst eating my afternoon snack! Yum!

    But truly interesting. I didn't know how many innocent looking murderers there are in the bird world. I will definitely be on the lookout now, and maybe wear a helmet outside.

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    1. I just walk with Dave. They're totally after him but they leave me be.

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  4. Oxpeckers presumably developed their behaviors in order to take advantage of the parasites hanging out on oxen. That they happen to draw blood while removing said parasites (or not) is beside the point.

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  5. I loved the first picture, of the Great Tit standing in "Captain Morgan position" atop the vole. Looked for all the world like some hunter with the moose he shot on proud display. I hope that the Tit is going to actually eat it and not just display its head on his livingroom wall to impress his friends.

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  6. One of my all-time favorite scientific article titles included "Clutch size in the Great Tit". Snortworthy, it was.

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  7. So, Tippy Hedren was right.

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    1. Isn't she someone's mom? Someone famous? don't make me look it up. Anyway, yeah. She was.

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    2. For those not old enough to recall, of course, Tippi starred in Hitchcock's "The Birds" in the 1960s.

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  8. Murr, you *could* have your recently deceased self shipped to Bhutan, where "sky burial" is practised, i.e. the body is cut into pieces and placed on designated mountain peaks for the vultures to eat. The cleaned bones are later cremated. I'll admit that "picked over by vultures" doesn't have the élégance that "pecked by chickadees" has, but since the tax bill arrives every year we have had years to get used to being picked clean by vultures. Birds evolved from raptors. No one seriously suggests *they* were herbivores.

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    1. I don't know if they've fixed the problem, but those sky burials were in steep decline because the vulture population was reduced by about 90% or so. Culprit: some drug they were giving cattle to make them meatier or something.

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  9. Writing that down, string up Murr in the forest where the bushtits nest.
    I truly did not know that Tits of any size drilled into other beings for the brains. I could more easily believe it of our bigger Australian birds, but not those cute little Tits.

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  10. I Wonder how any Bird got Blessed with the Name of Great Tits? The Inner Child in me always giggles when I hear it! *LOL* They do sound like brutal lil Jaundiced and innocent looking little Devils! Yikes!

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    1. Admit it. That's not your inner child. You a full-grown human who giggles at great tits. Don't be ashamed.

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    2. You're right... and I'm now ROTFLMAO at your response! No Shame in my game... gotta Love a great pair!

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  11. I'll always think of you in your deceased condition as a large ball of suet hanging in the forest.

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    1. That's one of the nicest things anyone has said to me.

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  12. How closely related are Bush Tits to the South American Pink-billed Tata? (Insert virtual slap here.)

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