Scientists have a new word for birds thieving animal hair

Some tiny birds choose bold pitfalls to acquire a beakful of hair for their nests. Titmice have been noticed dive-bombing cats, alighting on dozing predators’ backs and plucking strands of hair from people’s heads. Now, there’s a time period for the uncommon behavior: kleptotrichy.

Derived from the Greek text for “to steal” and “hair,” kleptotrichy has rarely been described by scientists, but dozens of YouTube videos capture the behavior, researchers report online July 27 in Ecology. Titmice — and one particular chickadee — have been caught on video clip tugging hair from canine, cats, people, raccoons and even a porcupine.

“Citizen researchers, chook watchers and individuals with puppies knew this actions significantly much more than the experts themselves,” suggests animal behaviorist Mark Hauber of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Popular observations precede science alternatively than the other way all over, which is a valid way to do science.”

Researchers counting birds in an Illinois condition park in Might 2020 spotted a tufted titmouse plucking fur off a dozing, unbothered raccoon. The staff dubbed the behavior “kleptotrichy” right after a lookup of the scientific literature and newbie video clips on YouTube turned up extra than 100 scenarios of hair thievery by birds.

Witnessing a chook steal hair from a mammal in the wild is what initially motivated Hauber’s colleague, ecologist Henry Pollock, to dig further. Though counting birds in an Illinois point out park in Might 2020, Pollock and colleagues noticed a tufted titmouse pluck fur from a sleeping raccoon. “I was like, ‘Wow, I’ve never witnessed anything at all like that,” claims Pollock, also of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

In South America, palm swifts snatch feathers from traveling pigeons and parrots — a conduct presently identified as kleptoptily. Exploring by the scientific literature, Hauber, Pollock and colleagues observed only 11 anecdotes of birds stealing hair from dwell mammals. Whilst most revealed accounts involve titmice in North America, at least five other hen species get in on the action. Researchers have seen an American crow harvest hair from a cow and a purple-winged starling in Africa peck a little antelope called a klipspringer. In Australia, 3 honeyeater chook species steal fur from koalas.

Meanwhile, a YouTube lookup by the crew turned up 99 films of tufted titmice, a mountain chickadee and a black-crested titmouse plucking hair from mammals. The latter two fowl species experienced not earlier been determined as hair thieves in the scientific literature.

Scientists usually presume that birds assemble hair for their nests in minimal-threat techniques, relying on carcasses or stray fluff drop into the wind. “Plucking hairs from raccoons, which are common avian nest predators, indicates that it is obviously worthy of it to get that hair,” Pollock says.

Hair-harvesting species are inclined to live in colder climates, so these birds probably prize hair’s insulating attributes, the group claims. Some birds may possibly also spruce up their nests with mammal hair to confuse would-be predators and parasites (SN: 8/28/01).