Great tits search for, capture, kill and eat hibernating bats

Péter Estók, Sándor Zsebők, Björn M. Siemers

Abstract

Ecological pressure paired with opportunism can lead to surprising innovations in animal behaviour. Here, we report predation of great tits (Parus major) on hibernating pipistrelle bats (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) at a Hungarian cave. Over two winters, we directly observed 18 predation events. The tits specifically and systematically searched for and killed bats for food. A substantial decrease in predation on bats after experimental provisioning of food to the tits further supports the hypothesis that bat-killing serves a foraging purpose in times of food scarcity. We finally conducted a playback experiment to test whether tits would eavesdrop on calls of awakening bats to find them in rock crevices. The tits could clearly hear the calls and were attracted to the loudspeaker. Records for tit predation on bats at this cave now span more than ten years and thus raise the question of whether cultural transmission plays a role for the spread of this foraging innovation.

Footnotes

    • Received July 24, 2009.
    • Accepted August 18, 2009.
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