Journal of Ornithology

, Volume 158, Issue 1, pp 287–295 | Cite as

Scavenging of small bird carrion in southwestern Germany by beetles, birds and mammals

  • Maik Henrich
  • Dieter Thomas Tietze
  • Michael WinkEmail author
Original Article


When considering the impact of wind turbines on the mortality of birds and bats, it is important to know the length of time that a carcass will be detectable. Thousands of small animals (such as many passerine birds with high mortality rates) die every day, but dead animals are rarely found by casual observers in the field. What is the fate of small carcasses in European ecosystems? During this project, we placed 120 defrosted day-old chicks (Gallus gallus f. domestica) as a model for a small carcass in a variety of habitats in southwestern Germany between the end of May and the beginning of December 2014. Using automatic trail cameras, we recorded the scavengers which visited the carrion or were feeding on it. Overall, two-thirds of the carcasses were removed under these conditions within a 5-day period. During the summer months, 20 % of the chicks were buried by burying beetles (Nicrophorus sp.), and 40 % were removed by nine mammal and three bird species. The most important vertebrate scavengers were the Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes), the Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo), the European Magpie (Pica pica) and the Domestic Cat (Felis catus). Among the scavenged chicks, 38.8 % vanished during the first 24 h of exposure. The median persistence time was 2.79 days. Persistence times were not dependent on habitat type, but carrion persisted longer on average in autumn than in summer. Knowledge of the factors influencing carcass persistence is important for estimating mortality in songbirds or bats in the context of wind turbines.


Carrion Scavenging Persistence Songbirds Trail camera 


Wer entsorgt tote Kleinvögel? Die Rolle von Totengräbern, Vögeln und Säugetieren in Südwestdeutschland Wenn man die Gefährdung von Vögeln und Fledermäusen durch Windkraftanlagen ermitteln möchte, muss man wissen, wie lange tote Tiere auffindbar bleiben. Im Projekt wurden von Ende Mai bis Anfang Dezember 2014 insgesamt 120 aufgetaute Eintagsküken in verschiedenen Lebensräumen in Südwestdeutschland mit Hilfe von automatischen Wildkameras überwacht. Insgesamt wurden zwei Drittel der ausgelegten Kadaver innerhalb von fünf Tagen entfernt. 20 % wurden von Totengräbern (Nicrophorus sp.) vergraben, wobei der Anteil im Jahresverlauf abnahm. 40 % der Küken wurden von insgesamt neun Säugetier- und drei Vogelarten gefressen. Unter den Wirbeltieren waren Rotfuchs (Vulpes vulpes), Mäusebussard (Buteo buteo), Elster (Pica pica) und Hauskatze (Felis catus) die wichtigsten Aasfresser. Über 38 % der ausgelegten toten Küken verschwand innerhalb der ersten 24 h. Der Median der Persistenzzeit betrug 2,79 d. Es konnte kein Zusammenhang zwischen Habitattypen und Persistenzzeiten festgestellt werden; die Küken blieben jedoch im Herbst im Durchschnitt länger liegen als im Sommer. Die Umgebungstemperatur kann in diesem Zusammenhang als wichtiger Faktor angesehen werden. Diese Erkenntnisse sind ein erster Schritt, um die Gefährdung von Singvögeln oder Fledermäusen an Windkraftanlagen besser einschätzen zu können.



We thank the community of Helmstadt-Bargen, the game tenants W. Zota, H. Edler and H. Gerstlauer, and the Angler Club Helmstadt-Bargen for permission to set up the cameras. We are also grateful to the Heidelberg Zoo for the opportunity to order a large quantity of day-old chicks.


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Copyright information

© Dt. Ornithologen-Gesellschaft e.V. 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Heidelberg University, Institute of Pharmacy and Molecular BiotechnologyHeidelbergGermany

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