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We watched a blackbird catch and kill a shrew and then fly away with it. Is this unusual?

Sent in by Christine Paley, Derbyshire

You certainly witnessed something very unusual. Blackbirds eat invertebrates such as worms, snails and slugs, insects etc in preference whenever these are available. Plant matter, mainly in the form of fruit and berries, tends to feature as a secondary, although commonly taken food.

Beyond these and bird table offerings, a whole range of odd foods are recorded from time to time. While blackbirds are opportunistic feeders, and individual birds may specialise in unusual food items, I doubt any of these could be considered a part of the regular diet of blackbirds in general.

There are reports of small fish and tadpoles taken, and even adult frogs and newts. A small number of reports refer to lizards, snakes and even carrion to feature in the diet. A less savoury food item is dog and fox faeces!

I have trawled the literature for accounts of predation on shrews by blackbirds, and have found only four records over the past 50 years. Each of these describe a similar situation to yours - the blackbird pecks at a shrew, picks it up, drops it, tosses it about and shakes it until it is dead. It then flies away with it, and one can only surmise that it will be fed to the chicks or fledglings.

Indeed, on one occasion the blackbird was observed feeding the shrew to a fledgling. This particular female may have been a regular rodent hunter, as the same fledgling also received a mouse on another occasion.

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