In a Nutshell
Chickadees, known as “tits” in Europe, are some of the best-loved garden songbirds and feeder visitors. However, roving bands of one colorful little bird vie with raptors for the title of most bizarre and bloodthirsty killer. How? Only by massacring roosting pipistrelle bats for extra protein in Europe’s dark forests.
The Whole Bushel
Great tits are the largest species of “tit” or “chickadee” in the northern hemisphere, but still rank among the smallest birds in the forest. Generally regarded as delightful and familiar songbirds, these brightly colored and inquisitive feathered creatures hide a gruesome secret.
In winter, rapidly metabolizing birds may encounter shortages of bugs and seeds, staples in their high-protein diet. Possessing powerful beaks and great intelligence for their size, great tits approach roosting bat colonies, where they proceed to bludgeon the winged mammals to death before tearing them apart and eating them. Unfortunately, death may take a while due to the makeshift nature of the bird’s killing abilities.
The sight of a familiar garden bird devouring European pipistrelle bats in a forest astounded researchers. Food tests involving dead bats showed that bats are chosen last if more typical fare is present. However, these birds can leave a truly grisly scene of killing and will not hesitate to do so in order to survive.