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Ask The Biologist: What's Going On?

Back To "Ask The Biologist?"QUESTION: Hey, I watched a fawn eat a robin this morning. I haven’t seen that in 50 years of watching wildlife. What’s going on? — Toby

ANSWER: Before you rush the kids inside and lock the doors in fear of carnivorous deer, let me assure you the behavior you observed is not deviant, though it is quite rare. In fact, you should consider yourself extremely fortunate to have witnessed it at all.

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As to what’s going on, there are several explanations. There’s a video clip circulating the internet that shows a similar occurrence, although in that case it is not a robin. The bird was a fledgling that had obvious left the nest a tad too soon. The parents are mobbing a young buck as it nudges, and eventually gobbles up the hapless fledgling.

Deer are opportunistic feeders and have been documented feeding on small mammals and birds. Several years ago, biologists from the USGS Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center in North Dakota used miniature video cameras to document white-tailed deer eating savannah sparrow nestlings right out of the nest. On the Scottish island of Rum, biologists observed red deer eating the heads and legs of live seabird chicks, and suspected the deer might be doing so as a way to get minerals.

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