do small birds eat mice

Bite a mouse in the back of the neck. Don’t let go. Now shake your head at a frenzied 11 turns per second, as if saying “No, no, no, no, no!”

You have just (sort of) imitated a loggerhead shrike (Lanius ludovicianus). It’s already known as one of North America’s more ghoulish songbirds. That’s because it impales dead bodies of prey on thorns and barbed wire. But that’s not where the gory story ends.

Once the shrike hoists its prey onto some prong, the bird will tug it downward. “It’s on there to stay,” says Diego Sustaita. As a vertebrate biologist, he studies animals with backbones. He has watched a shrike about the size of a mockingbird steadying a skewered frog like a kabob for the grill. A bird might dig in right away. It might keep the meal for later. Or it might just let that poor dead frog sit around as proof of its appeal as a successful hunter.

Shrikes eat a lot of hefty insects. The birds also catch rodents, lizards, snakes and even other types of small birds. The limit on what they can carry off may be close to the shrike’s own weight. A 1987 paper reported on a shrike killing a cardinal almost as big as it was. The shrike couldn’t carry the dead weight more than a few meters (yards) at a time and finally gave up.

The species’ numbers are low. Scientists say these birds are “near threatened” with extinction. So to aid in the species’ survival, conservation managers are breeding one loggerhead subspecies on San Clemente Island. That’s about 120 kilometers (75 miles) west of where Sustaita works at California State University San Marcos. Sustaita set up cameras around a cage where the birds are fed. That let him film shrikes, beak open, lunging to catch dinner. “They’re aiming for the prey’s neck,” he found.

That’s a very shrikey thing. Falcons and hawks attack with their talons. Shrikes, though, evolved on the songbird branch of the bird tree — without such powerful grips. So shrikes land on their feet and attack with their hooked bills. “The bite happens at the same time the feet hit the ground,” Sustaita says. If the mouse somehow dodges, the shrike pounces again, “feet first, mouth agape.”

Reading several decades of gruesome shrike papers, Sustaita first believed the real killing power came from the bird’s bill. It has bumps on the side. As it dives into the neck, it wedges that beak between neck vertebrae, biting into the prey’s spine. Shrikes definitely bite. However, based on videos, Sustaita now proposes that shaking may help immobilize, or even kill, the prey.

Sustaita’s team discovered that San Clemente shrikes fling their mouse prey with a ferocity that reached six times the acceleration due to Earth’s gravity. That’s about what a person’s head would feel in a car crash at 3.2 to 16 kilometers (two to 10 miles) per hour. “Not superfast,” Sustaita acknowledges. But it’s enough to give someone whiplash. The team described what it learned from these videos September 5 in Biology Letters.

That much shaking could be even more dangerous to a small mouse. Videos showed that the mouse’s body and head were twisting at different speeds. “Buckling,” Sustaita calls it. Just how much damage twisting does versus the neck bite remains unclear. But there’s a whole other question: In the process, how does a shrike manage not to shake its own brain to mush?

No! Say It Isn’t So!

Another animal has a history of consuming mice for food. Although it is classified as a mammal, it is very different from the ones mentioned above. In contrast to other mammals, the vast majority of this species would not eat mice, even if they were starving. The few members of this group who do engage in these activities are restricted to specific countries, and individuals from other regions of the world tend to avoid them. One of the mouse’s main adversaries is this unusual mammal, the human.

do small birds eat mice

Because we can be finicky eaters, humans may be the pickiest species in the food chain. Our tastes have evolved to the point where we are not restricted to eating only what we catch and are quickly turned off by certain foods, particularly those that are known to spread the plague by carrying parasites.

Mice are regularly consumed in regions of the world where the environment requires that food be obtained wherever it is found. Even though the economies of some of the nations that serve mice on the menu are doing well, traditional foods are still served, sometimes as cultural treats for intrepid travelers. You can sample mice prepared in various ways in certain regions of Vietnam, China, Korea, Malawi, and Zambia.

Classroom Resources for This Article

Free educator resources are available for this article. Register to access: Client key* E-mail Address*.

Already Registered? Enter your e-mail address above.

Readability Score: 6.1

Don’t Risk Your Pet

It is not advisable to allow animals to kill and potentially consume mice that take up residence in your home, even though many of them will happily consume such rodents. Mice have the potential to transmit parasites and diseases that could seriously harm your pets or even you. So use a reputable brand of mouse trap to do the job for you rather than endangering their health and yours. Victor® has been creating and marketing mouse traps for more than a century, so they are sure to have what you need. They even have hygienic models like the Victor® Clean KillTM trap, which makes sure that any parasites on the rodent stay with the rodent!

do small birds eat mice


What birds eat small mice?

Birds – Birds of prey such as eagles, hawks and owls see mice as standard fare to be sought after and snared. The heron, crow and blue jay are non-raptor birds that will also eat rodents when they find them.

What small animal eats mice?

House mice are eaten by a wide variety of small predators throughout the world, including cats, foxes, weasels, ferrets, mongooses, large lizards, snakes, hawks, falcons, and owls. House mice try to avoid predation by keeping out of the open and by being fast.

What birds eat mice at night?

Several types of birds love to feast on mice, including hawks, blue jay, owls, crows, and eagles. Owls can hunt several mice each night. These birds of prey typically rely on small animals to survive, including lizards and snakes.

Do squirrels eat mice?

While a squirrel will eat a mouse, it would prefer not to. Like all other animals, squirrels require protein, carbs and fat in their diet. While they would prefer to get these nutrients from nuts, leaves, mushrooms, roots, seeds and insects, they’ll eat from a larger menu when the going gets tough.