The tufted titmouse is a bold and courageous little bird which has been filmed plucking fur from animals, including cats, to line their nest. They seem to go for the undercoat; the downy, fine fur which is used to insulate the animal. It had been thought that “stealing fur” like this was only from dead animals but researchers discovered that the plucky titmouse has decided that the risk associated with stealing fur from a live animal is worth it for the benefits that the fur brings to their health and welfare and that of their chicks.
It is believed that having a predator’s hair in their nest may help to deter attacks from other predators. The news is published online in an article on the Science Daily website and on some news media sites. Science Daily reports that there are dozens of online videos documenting this unusual behaviour. The birds land on unsuspecting mammals, and as you can see in the video, pluck away pulling out hair while the “victim” appears to ignore it or they might be mildly irritated as is the raccoon in the video below.
Or from a dog:
Note: These are videos from another website: YouTube. Sometimes they are deleted at source which stops them working on this site. If that has happened, I apologise but I have no control over it.
The scientists have described this as ‘kleptotrichy’ from the Greek for ‘theft’ and ‘hair’. In all the recorded cases the species of bird involved has been a titmouse. And surprisingly to me, it includes plucking fur from cats. And also, dogs, humans and in one case a porcupine.
It seems extraordinary that a bird can land on a cat and start plucking their hair out without any response or without a response which injures or kills them. Perhaps it doesn’t feel so bad to the cat. It might even feel similar to petting but that is probably my imagination running wild. It reminds me of ravens plucking parasites from deer while the deer are resting or feeding.
Many species of titmice, chickadees and tits – all members of the family Paridae line their nests with the fur of animals, said Mark Hauber a professor of evolution, ecology and behaviour at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. He wrote up the research with an associate, Henry Pollock.
The reason bird behavior is being debated but the obvious reason is that it is warm and the other is the one mentioned above about predation. Another reason is that it might deter nest and nestling parasites which commonly are a threat to chick survival particularly in the cavity nests of titmice.
The motivation for the study came about by chance. Another scientist, Geoffrey Brawn, and Pollock were conducting a spring bird count in central Illinois. They had assumed that plucking fur from animals only occurred when the animal was dead but Brawn said: “But the titmouse I saw was plucking hair from a live animal. This was from a live raccoon with claws and teeth. And the raccoon didn’t seem to mind because it didn’t even wake up.”
Their research indicated that there were nine studies documenting 11 instances of this form of behaviour. But then they searched on YouTube and found many more. The animals can be awake or sleeping.
SOME MORE ON BIRDS AND CATS: