As it is Halloween it seemed apt to tackle a bird of the nightmares. A bird of unspeakably ghoulish tastes and habits. Something sinister. Something wicked. That’s right, it’s the Great Tit…
Wait, that can’t be right?
But it is right, for this is a vile and murderous flesh-eater.
It’s not just the killing and eating of insects I’m referring to here either. Great Tits kill their own. They will kill chicks in a nest box if they take it over, be they chicks of a near relative like the Blue Tit, or chicks of another Great Tit.
They have been recorded forming gangs to kill small finches. We shouldn’t be too surprised. If you have a bill that can get you into hard nuts and seeds, why stop there? Brains are just so nutritious and calorifically satisfying…
For that is what happens. Great Tits kill small birds, peck through their skulls or their eyes, and eat their brains. Not just birds either. They have been recorded going into caves where bats (that more traditional Halloween staple) are roosting, and doing exactly the same thing.
While that is the worst of their crimes they will also scavenge meat. They will steal food from the caches of other species. So does the Great Tit represent the worst of the animal kingdom?
Well of course not. We too often fall into the trap of bracketing birds and other animals into buckets that suit us. We have our lovely, fluffy ‘garden birds’. Then we have the vicious birds of prey that murder them. Yet biology is far too complicated for that, far too complicated to just drop things into simple categories such as ‘seed eater’, ‘insect eater’ and ‘flesh eater’. All through nature we keep seeing that, when necessary, most things can go omnivore. Just like us.
But, all that being said, if you are out trick-or-treating tonight, do consider your costume carefully. After all, why dress up as a fictional brain-eating zombie when you can be a real-life brain-hungry Great Tit? I’m sure the people whose doors you darken will appreciate learning something.