Blackbirds can hear a worm wriggling in the earth

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baileys | 00:44 Mon 05th Jun 2006 | Animals & Nature
8 Answers

On a Bill Oddie science and nature programme a number of months ago, the old twitcher said that Blackbirds can hear worms wriggling under the surface of the earth.

Is this true?and what do they sound like?or is he losing his marbles?lol

i'd love to know if anyone else can remember this particular show.

many thanks


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I believe this is a fact. You can also see blackbirds turn their heads sideways against the ground. I don't remember this particular show, baileys, but I don't think Bill is quite ready for the funny farm yet.

Having never listened for worms, I don't really know what they sound like!!!

It must be so. Watching blackbirds in our garden, they seem to be listening, then sometimes make three or four attempts before they come up with a worm in their beak. If they could see the worm, they'd grab it first try.

This has been discussed thoroughly and the consensus appears to agree with this excerpt from American Robin: Most scientists now conclude that robins find worms by vision, thanks to experiments by an ornithologist named Frank Heppner. In his experiments, Heppner investigated all the robin's senses. Heppner established that vibrations, odors, and sounds do NOT help robins find worms. Instead, robins SEE worms inside their burrows or wiggling on the ground. Robins **** their heads to improve their ability to look at the ground. Some robins find worms the EASY way; they learn that worms emerge from burrows after rain, which can make them really easy to pick up on sidewalks.
And from The New York City Naturalist: With their heads cocked toward the ground, almost as if listening for worms, the Robin will suddenly strike with its bill and pull an earthworm from the ground. Ornithologists now know that Robins use their keen eyesight to find birds, not their hearing.

Bill may be a bit odd but he knows his stuff when it comes to birds!

Yes I'm sure he's right, black birds do have highly attuned sences, I've even seen them doing a little pitter patter "rain dance" on the grass to fool the worm into thinking its raining, so up the worm comes before its hole gets flooded...and gotcha. I've seen them perform thie little trick many atime, or maybe I'm going ****** too ?

For some reason the word 'cuckoo' got censored ?
You probably mispelled it, Thunderbird+, since the word censored on my post is ' c0ck his head'...
There appears to be disagreement (I'm schocked!) among people who study these sorts of things. This from a recent study by Robert Montgomerie & Patrick J. Weatherhead, Department of biology, Queens University: Most diurnally active birds appear to be visually
oriented foragers. Birds seem poorly adapted
for localizing prey by hearing because their relatively
small heads produce little sound shadow
and their closely set, inconspicuous ears generate
small interaural time differences (Knudsen 1980).
None the less, songbirds have reasonably good
auditory abilities as evidenced by numerous
studies of song detection and discrimination (e.g.
McGregor 1991). Further evidence of the soundlocalizing
abilities of songbirds comes from an
experimental study of Australian black-backed
magpies, Gymnorhina tibicen, foraging on buried
scarab beetle, Rhopaea verreauxi, larvae with
auditory, vibrotactile and visual cues masked in
a variety of combinations (Floyd & Woodland
1981). Magpies were able to find the buried larvae
exclusively by localizing the low-amplitude, low
frequency sounds made when the larvae were
burrowing or feeding.


American robins are common garden birds over
much of North America and their distinctive
foraging behaviour is well known, although little
studied (Heppner 1965; Eiserer 1980; Paszkowski
1982; Swihart & Johnson 1986). Earthworms may
comprise up to 20% of their diet (Kalmbach 1914;
Howell 1941), particularly during the breeding
season, and these are typically captured on mown lawns.
Our own field observations (as opposed to above referenced Heppner) of robins foraging
suggested to us that they might also use other
sensory modes while searching for earthworms.
When they c0ck their head they appear to be
listening (see also Tyler 1949), and we have
watched robins successfully foraging on lawns
where the grass was long enough to make earthworms
difficult to see. We also watched a captive
robin catch earthworms buried in soil where we
could detect no visual cues that would reveal an
earthworm�s location. Thus it seemed to us that
auditory, olfactory or vibrotactile cues might be
used in addition to visual cues when localizing
prey. Our objective in this study was to test
experimentally the ability of captive robins to use
each of these sensory modalities when hunting
for worms. So, take your pick!

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