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A new study recently revealed that the tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)  is stealing fur right off the backs of what's described in a report as "living, breathing predators."

According to a ScienceAlert report, this is something unusual since this bird type, also known as Baeolophus bicolor, including its closest relative species, the fur, frequently that of mammalian carnivores, is believed by scientists to have been pillaged from dead animals or opportunistically ripped when the animals are hurt.

Jeffrey Brawn, an ecologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said the titmouse he saw was "plucking hair from a live animal, particularly a live raccoon that had claws and teeth." The said animal appeared not to mind as the plucking didn't even wake it up.

The ecologist saw the behavior quite by accident while he was conducting a bird count in Illinois and got so intrigued that he searched for an explanation of what he observed.

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Science Times - Tufted Titmouse: This Bird Species is Fur Thief of Live Predators, New Study Reveals
(Photo: Judy Gallagher on Wikimedia Commons)
Tufted Titmouse

'Fur Thieves'

Together with colleagues led by Mark Hauber and Henry Pollock of the University of Illinois Urbana-Campaign, he discovered that hair or fur theft had been mentioned only slightly in the scientific literature.

However, videos uploaded on YouTube, like the one shown on Richard Converse's YouTube video below, turned out to be certainly a rich resource.

In the videos, viewers would see tufted titmice plucking fur from domestic cats, dogs, and even porcupines. Additionally, numerous other videos showed other species stealing fur, in whom such behavior had not been scientifically verified.

However, even though the literature may have limited records, other sources propose that birds that steal fur from living animals are quite popular among the general public.

Specifically, tufted titmice are described as irregular "fur thieves" on the Cornell Lab webpage for the species. Meanwhile, in Australia, yellow-faced honeyeaters were reported to steal fuzz from sleeping koalas.

'Kleptotrichy' Behavior

In their study, What the pluck? Theft of mammal hair by birds is an overlooked but common behavior with fitness implications; published in the Ecological Society of America journal, researchers have named this behavior "kleptotrich," which means theft and hair in Greek.

Remarkably, the searches on YouTube also generated a lot of instances of birds collecting shed animal fur from the environment. This suggests that theft is not the birds' main source of fur or hair.

This report also specified that animal fur could definitely help protect a nest and keep it warm, although the study authors believe that the material, specifically from predators, provides some other benefits.

Brawn said a local species known as the great crested flycatcher is like a titmouse. A similar Chop News report describes it as a "cavity nester" that places shed snakeskins into its nest, probably preventing or stopping predators.

The ecologist added finches in Africa display the same behavior, using feces of predators as a warning. It might even be possible that the hair or fur is helping fend off parasites, which can quickly kill small hatchlings.

Some birds are lining their nests with plants that can keep intruders at bay, although it is unclear if mammal fur has the same properties.

Having a definite actual scientific documentation of kelptotrichy is an essential step towards finding it out, as it lays out essential basic information other scientists will now be able to build upon.

 

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