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Apr 06,2007
Wildlife Viewfinder Guide: Mob rules
by Tim Herd

It's tough being the top of the food chain: All your food gives you problems.
 
It's not uncommon to see a blue jay chasing an owl, or swallows ganging up on a hawk, or - as our image captures  - a red-winged blackbird routing a much larger snail kite.
 
Such overt discrimination is called mobbing and is practiced by many smaller birds against the very ones who could easily turn and snatch a couple of them up. Why, then, do they do it?
 
Mobbing tends to occur most frequently on breeding grounds where, despite the danger to individual birds, the "keep-moving" directive to the predator safeguards many more helpless and hapless hatchlings and fledglings. And while it may simply divert the bad news away, such profiling also educates the younger members of the population to recognize the enemy.
 
Snail kites and red-winged blackbirds share prime real estate habitat, and although the kite eats small snails taken right from the surface of the water, its resemblance to other notorious raptors brings a sharp proactive response from the no-nonsense blackbirds.

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