Birds Hunting Bats

During the Cretaceous mammals, including our ancient evolutionary ancestors, hid in the shadows from terrifying predatory dinosaurs. 65 million years later, some things never change because bats (along with rodents, rabbits, and small monkeys) still fall prey to the dinosaurs that didn’t become extinct–birds. 1 study compiled all accounts of diurnal birds hunting bats, and the authors cataloged 237 species of birds that have been recorded hunting bats. Some of the species are not surprising. 107 species of hawks and 36 species of falcons prey upon bats. Other species are more surprising. 94 non-raptor species from 28 families prey upon bats. The list of bird species that prey upon bats includes Mexican gray hawks, red-tailed hawks, Swainson’s hawks, Cooper’s hawks, bald eagles, and peregrine falcons. 1 species of falcon specializes in hunting bats and is even called the bat falcon (Falco refigularis). Owls probably kill more bats than hawks do because they are nocturnal and active when bats are most active. Species of owls that hunt bats include barn owls, barred owls, great horned owls, short-eared owls, and long-eared owls. Even some song birds prey upon bats. Brown jays, a tropical corvid, attack bats when they exit caves. And birds in the goat sucker family, such as Chuck-will’s-widows, swallow bats whole in flight. Some species of bats are particularly small and can be the size of large insects.

Red-tailed hawk hunting Mexican free-tailed bat. Photo from BBC Earth video on youtube.
This bird is actually called the bat falcon because it specializes in hunting bats. Photo from the Birds of the World website.
Even some species of songbirds eat bats, including this tropical brown jay. Photo from ebird.
Look at the gaping mouth of this Chuck-will’s- widow. They swallow small birds and bats whole while in flight. Photo from the Kiawah Island banding blogspot.

Mexican free-tailed bats live in colonies of hundreds of thousands. Raptors attack this species of bat in shifts. Red-tailed hawks attack the bats when they leave their cave in the evening; peregrine falcons attack the bats when they return to the cave in the morning. Birds normally attack bats when they are stragglers flying by themselves. Bats flying close together may be harder for birds to single out and hunt. For bats there is safety in numbers.

References:

Lee, Ya-fu; and Yen Man Kuu

“Predation on Mexican Free-Tailed Bats by Peregrine Falcons and Red Tailed Hawks”

Journal of Raptor Research 35 (2) 2001

Mikula, P.; F. Morello, R. Lucas, and D. Jones

“Bats as Prey of Diurnal Birds”

Mammal Review 46 (3) Feb 2016

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