How backyard songbirds end up in the tummies of baby tiger sharks

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How backyard songbirds end up in the tummies of baby tiger sharks

May 21, 2019 - 21:24
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While incidents of sharks consuming seabirds are nothing new, it seems that baby tiger sharks have been found to be eating songbirds, terrestrial birds that we would normally find in our backyard. What gives?

Tiger sharks scavenge on songbirds that have trouble flying over the ocean

A paper recently published in the Ecology journal relates the intriguing phenomenon involving half-digested remains of birds found in the stomachs of baby tiger sharks.

Not that cases of sharks devouring birds are anything new. But what makes these particular cases interesting is that the remains are of songbirds like sparrows, woodpeckers and doves—birds that we would normally find in our backyard.

How in the world did the sharks, residing in the vast oceans, get hold of these terrestrial birds?

To find out, lead author Assistant Extension Professor Marcus Drymon (of Mississippi State University) and his team pumped the stomach contents of baby sharks and sent them for DNA analysis. According to a National Geographic report, 41 of the 105 tiger sharks studied had consumed terrestrial birds; interestingly, all were from 11 species of North American land birds.

The explanation, it seemed, was that the baby tiger sharks had snagged the unfortunate birds when the latter were on their migration across the seas.

"The tiger sharks scavenge on songbirds that have trouble flying over the ocean. During migration, they're already worn out, and then they get tired or fall into the ocean during a storm," said co-author Kevin Feldheim, a researcher at Chicago's Field Museum.

Yikes.

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