The more time I spend in the bush, the more I’m humbled by how much there is to learn about the strategies nature employs to ensure a fully-functioning, balanced ecosystem. One of the latest surprises for me came from learning of an unusual predator of mice…
Despite the struggle mice face for warmth during the harsh Madikwe winters and them forming part of the staple diet of a number of predators on the reserve, they seem to be abundant. Predators of mice include a range of animals, from small mammals – such as jackals, foxes, wild cats, and caracals – to reptiles – including a variety of snakes – and birds.
I used to think birds that preyed on mice – filling the important population-control niche – were the birds of prey (eagles, hawks, goshawks, harriers, kites, falcons, and owls) and, perhaps even, crows and shrikes. Never would I’ve thought to include rollers and kingfishers in this niche!
I was amazed when a lilac-breasted roller took off from a perch, swooped low to the ground, seized a mouse – similar in size to itself – and effortlessly returned, catch in bill. We watched as it quickly killed it with a few swift knocks against the sturdy perch. Within a few minutes, the mouse was completely swallowed, head first, and the bird flew off satisfied.
A few days later, I came across a woodland kingfisher proudly perched with a mouse. After beating it against the branch, the kingfisher left to enjoy the spoils of success in private. I’d only ever before seen these kinds of birds prey on insects and worms. I’d never seen one even attempt to take a vertebrate. It just goes to show how versatile birds can be when it comes to exploiting available food sources!
Words and photos by: Field Guide Mitchell Huggins