The Loh Down On Science

Bird Bombs

Gray partridges use unusual tactics to thwart predators.

In the face of evil... defecate?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

saying it works! If you're a gray partridge.

Jorg Tillmann, from Germany's Institute for Wildlife Research, discovered this rather unusual strategy. How? By playing the part of predator.

Starting at sundown each night, and armed with a heat-sensing camera, he snuck up on resting partridges in northwestern Germany. And BOO! Scared the CRAP out of them. LITERALLY.

How much. . . poo? He found that a covey of, say, 15 partridges could deliver an air assault of some 60 droppings over two hundred square meters. That's four bombs per bird.

The strategy is intended to foil the red fox, a major partridge predator. It not only stuns and confuses a pouncing fox, but may, in a sense, "blind" it.

That's because red foxes hunt the birds mostly by smell. The partridge projectiles create what Tillmann calls "an odorous fog." It's the olfactory version of octopus ink, and overwhelms the fox's senses, while masking the birds' escape route--

Enabling them to make a clean getaway! Well, clean-ish..


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