Why does the hoopoe practice cannibalism?

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Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
14 May 2024 Tuesday 10:35
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Why does the hoopoe practice cannibalism?

* The author is part of the community of readers of La Vanguardia

This spring, hoopoes are very present in the cloister of the Pedralbes monastery in Barcelona, ​​although they can be seen here all year round. Did you know that they practice cannibalism if necessary?

Using part of the offspring as food has an objective, as confirmed by a study led by the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) and the University of Granada, in collaboration with the Korand Lorenz Institute in Vienna and which showed that hoopoe mothers use regularly use this resource to ensure the survival of their chicks.

So much so that hoopoes produce additional eggs because, in the event of few hatch failures and food is scarce, they will sacrifice some of the smaller chicks to feed their older siblings.

In this way, it is certified that cannibalism between siblings occurs regularly in this species of bird, just as it had already been observed in different types of insects, fish, and amphibians.

The parents are responsible for deciding which chicken to feed at any given time and, in the event that food is scarce, it is quite normal that they only feed the largest ones and let the smaller ones starve.

The mothers (who in the case of hoopoes are in charge of distributing food among the chicks) use the smaller chicks as if they were prey to feed the older chicks.

Hoopoes can't tear their prey to pieces like raptors do, so the big chicks have to consume the little brother in one piece, something that is possible because the first chick to hatch is typically 10 times larger than the last, according to said Juan José Soler, CSIC research professor at the Arid Zones Experimental Station (EEZA/CSIC).