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Studying the oak, caterpillar, great tit food chain

Winter moth caterpillars are the favorite food of great tit birds in England’s Wytham Woods. Because of this, great tit parents time their breeding so that there are lots of caterpillars to feed their hungry hatchlings. But how?

In this clip from the BBC’s Springwatch, Gillian Burke meets with scientist Dr. Ella Cole, who, with her colleagues at Oxford University’s Department of Zoology, monitors the hatchlings, caterpillars, and oaks to better understand the food chain. From Oxford’s Science blog:

‘It is thought that female tits may be using information on the presence of early-stage caterpillars or the stage of development of tree buds. In early spring tits can be seen closely inspecting, and sometimes even eating, tree buds which may be how they collect this information.’

tit nest with hatchlings
Scientists are also trying to understand this relationship because it can hint at which species might adapt if climate change affects spring’s arrival. In this video, despite the wide range in tree bud timing, the two hatchlings Cole has found are healthy and growing.

great tit hatchlings
great tit chick
Next, learn more about food chains with videos on this site, including Crash Course Kids’ Fabulous Food Chains and Home Sweet Habitat & Food Webs.

Plus: How birds get oxygen inside their eggs, more evidence that birds can count, and what do bluebirds eat?

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