Attack of the Brain-Eating Killer Songbirds


[ intro ] Brain-eating zombies don’t exist. The dead don’t hunger for brains. The living, however, are another story. If you were feeling disappointed at the lack
of prospects for a zombie apocalypse, well, you can still look forward to the brain-eating,
killer songbird apocalypse. Yes, I said brain-eating, killer songbirds. In a remarkable example of animals developing novel adaptations to challenging
situations, members of a certain population of great tits
have developed a taste… for bat brains. Under ordinary circumstances, these birds eat insects, though they will also take seeds from feeders, thus nurturing the illusion that they’re
all lovely and chirpy and innocent like songbirds are
supposed to be. There were clues about their darker nature,
though! Like, great tits are already adept at disemboweling
— they feed fat caterpillars to their young, which they first lovingly prepare by picking
out the guts. So we really should have seen this whole thing
coming. Now, I should point out that brain-eating is not usual behavior for great tits in general, but rather for a select group of them that
live near a particular cave in Hungary. [PIHP-ih-STREHLL]
The cave is occupied by hibernating pipistrelle bats . And in a paper published in 2009, researchers documented great tits patrolling
the mouth of the cav e and listening for the sounds the bats make
when they’re awake. Then, the researchers reported something horrifying: The birds would fly into the cave, locate
the bats, and peck their heads open, usually while they were still alive. The bats are easy targets because they’re
sluggish, and not difficult for the birds to catch. But it’s not like this was the bird’s
first choice. The scientists studying this phenomenon found that the birds will typically only do this
in hard times. Winters in northeast Hungary are harsh, so the birds don’t have as much access to
their usual menu of caterpillars and spiders. That suggests all this a survival strategy that this group of individuals has developed
in response to food shortages. And it’s not a brand new thing, either. People have been anecdotally observing the
brain-eating behavior in this group at least since the mid-1990s. So the researchers think it’s most likely
a learned behavior, passed down from great tit to great tit. That said, there are also reports of other populations
of these birds eating bat brains in Sweden and Poland, so maybe it’s more widespread. Although in those cases, it’s less clear if the birds did a murder, or just snacked on bats that were already
dead. In any case, it’s hard to say why these birds might have
defaulted to eating bats during hard times, and specifically, why they might be zeroing
in on the brains. It might just be because that’s the killing
blow. After all, the birds do eat other parts of
the bats, too, so it’s not like they’re exclusively brain
snobs or anything. But it probably has something to do with opportunity. The bats provide a ready source of nutrition, and their vocalizations make them easy to
find. So, they become an ideal snack for those rough
winter months. Now, this story would be disturbing enough
if it were just about bats. But turns out, great tits have also been observed
eating the brains of pied flycatchers, another type of songbird. Although in those cases, it’s as a way to
defend their turf. In a 2019 study, researchers proposed that this is happening because the warming climate is causing the breeding periods of the two
species to overlap, which creates conflict. Still, it’s kind of a leap to go from “you’re
in my territory” to “I’m going to eat your brains,” and no one is really sure why the great tits
end up with zombie-like food preferences. But, hey. Brains do contain a lot of nutritious fats, so maybe they’ve picked up on the fact that
they’re energy-rich and delicious. So… maybe that’s what the zombies were
after all along. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow, and thanks to our patrons for making it possible
for us to tell you about brain-eating murderbirds. Just wanted to get that in there one more
time. If you want to help support our family of
channels, go to patreon.comscishow to get started. [ outro ]

100 thoughts on “Attack of the Brain-Eating Killer Songbirds

  1. The key words for this video have a lot of overlap with Roger Corman films. 📼

  2. I used to have a pet mouse. I left her alone one night and came back to find a rat had stuck through an open window, got into the aquarium I kept her in, killed her and ate her brains. It was disturbing.

  3. Funny seeing all the prudish commentators who just can't bring themselves to write the word tit. It's the name of the bird, you imbeciles!

  4. Did this video require slightly more retakes than normal, or is Olivia the cool professional that she appears?

  5. It is documented that they eat mouse brain in Norway. Though it did not kill it itself i think in the case where a picture was taken

  6. Times must be pretty bad in Eastern Europe. Even the birds are having to find ways to survive. Not just the peoples.

  7. "A paper published in 2009, researchers documented great тiтs (do you even get a ban for this word in the comment section?) patrolling the mouth…"

    researchers right…

    Also I heard тiтs hunt in pairs, because… you know… there's two hemispheres in the brain… science, yeah…

  8. – You make a sweet noise there, partner.
    – That's high praise coming from the San Saba Song Bird. Herald of Demise. I've been hunting you up on account of they say you're the one to beat, singing and slinging guns.

    Read more: https://www.springfieldspringfield.co.uk/movie_script.php?movie=the-ballad-of-buster-scruggs

  9. You hid the giggles but not the smirk, especially at the beginning. Still, great job Olivia. That could not have been an easy task.

  10. In Siberia I'm used to feeding these exact birds when they appear during winter months, and they DO prefer fat-rich food. I figured out long time ago they love cured pork fat (salo) probably for it's very nutritious and easy to digest. They will even peck butter no problem. Can't help but think about how many bats I've saved now. 💙🐦

  11. *It's kind of a leap to go from "Hey, you're in my territory." to "I'm gonna eat your brains!"*

    Meth: it's a hell of a drug!

  12. There are nests I used to pass by in a city with small birds zipping by my head at high speeds. With my imagination at the time, I thought they were trying to ram their beaks into my skull to kill me.

  13. Have you looked at people?!
    The zombies already outnumber the living! Passive-thinking, passive-living minimalist „simplicity“ zombie lifestyle deadstyle is already the most popular with the forever afraid.

  14. Every time she says the birds name…..I feel sexually harassed. I'm suing for emotional distress. 😜😬🐦🚫

  15. Cute little song birds are often much more horrifying than they look.
    Just look at the feeding behavior of shrikes. They are the most psychopathic animal out there.

  16. This women is a hero for recording this without breaking down in laughing.
    …Now that I think about it she might be the only one in the team able to do it

  17. Parents to their children in 2033: "If you keep watching those t!ts your brain is going to turn to fat and will be eaten by birds!"

  18. The scariest thing was when she said "people have been observing this behavior since the mid 90s" like it was a quarter of a century ago and then realizing it has been that long. RIP my old ass.

  19. the bloopers for this episode must be legendary.. quick! everyone pester them to make it public xD or become a patron haha

  20. As a kid i had gerbils and they can be quite aggressive toward each other. There was 1 that was special however. It would only eat the brains of dead gerbils nothing else of the body was touched. It was quite disturbing really.

  21. THE ONION KNEW. They already prepared us for how nightmarish birds truly are in their classic nature documentary Horrifying Planet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nIikrFQzS1o

  22. In Norway we call them "kjøttmeis", which essentially mean "meat tit".
    The reason why we call them this is because of they have been seen eating carcasses in the winter. Although we have found out that they ate only the fat.

  23. Okay, maybe I'm just immature as hell, but… how many takes? "… a learning behavior, passed down from great tit to great tit" I MEAN COME ON

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