Quirks and Quarks

Birds pay a price for alligator protection

Alligators keep raccoons and other chick-eaters away, but eat any that drop from the nest

Alligators deter other predators from bird nests, but take careless chicks

American alligator in Florida Everglades National Park (US National Parks Service)
Scientists have known that wading birds in the Florida Everglades, such as herons, egrets and storks, build their nests in trees above alligators. The presence of alligators ensures that hungry raccoons and opossums won't be tempted to steal eggs from the nests.

But Lucas Nell, who did his research with the Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation at the University of Florida,  and his colleagues, wanted to understand what was in this relationship for the alligators.

His study revealed that the alligators lay in wait for baby chicks that are often expelled from the nest - because these types of birds often have more chicks than they are capable of raising. The research also found that alligators living in the presence of these birds are healthier, in terms of body condition, than those living in different habitats.

Related Links

Paper in PLoS One
- University of Florida release
- Washington Post story
- Smithsonian magazine
- Nature Conservancy blog