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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Field Note: Captive Audience

Published: August 30, 2022

A yellow-billed stork leans down, searching for its next meal. (Photo: © Mark Seth Lender)

Cooperative hunting among birds is rare but Explorer in Residence Mark Seth Lender shares an unexpected instance among yellow-billed storks in Kenya.

For hunters, dry season is a transformation. The relentless walk and stalk then run of wet season becomes a jogging in place. Thirst does the legwork. All the hunter needs is a nearby source of of water, and patience. While the strategies available to the hunted come down to physical size, strength in numbers, or wait until dark and hope for the best.

Unless, the hunted not only need water to live but also live in water. As water shrinks to pools, then puddles, among the obligatory water dwellers their numbers work against them. Propinquity becomes an added attraction, concentrating the hunter’s rewards. Only night remains as something of a friend of the hunted.

Night, or its equivalent.

Turbid water is an unavoidable consequence of drought. It creates a perpetual gloom in which fish and amphibians hide. In clear open pools a single wading bird is an entire hunting party. In the remnant wet, thickened to the consistency of condensed milk, the waders need each other’s help.

The yellow-billed storks’ proximity alone indicates cooperative hunting. Even in such greatly diminished and narrowed waters the storks could have spread out or each taken a different pool, which they did not. Yellow-billed storks habituated themselves to hunting close together because it worked under these particular circumstances. Whether intended or serendipitous, I cannot say for certain.

Back to Mark Seth Lender Field Notes


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Special thanks to Destination Wildlife


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