Friday, 27 June 2014

A match made in Brazil - Cheeky bird hitches free ride & meal on back of giant rodent

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Capybara and Cattle Tyrant - a match made in Brazil
Words by Angela Brennan. As published in various media June 2014 (Guardian)

A CHEEKY bird hitching a ride and free meal on the back of a giant rodent has been captured by a wildlife photographer. Paul Williams, 34, caught the Cattle Tyrant on the back of a pig-sized capybara, the largest rodent in the world.

As the name suggests, the Cattle Tyrants sometimes perch on the backs of cattle and horses to catch insects flushed by the livestock. But this cheeky bird was also snapped feasting on the semi aquatic mammal’s fur - possibly for ticks.

The giant rodent disturbed insects as it grazed on grass, which were then quickly snapped up by the somersaulting bird.

Paul, who works for the BBC Natural History Unit, said: “It was quite funny to see this little bird riding on top of this massive rodent. It was as if the bird was commanding it to march on, and whispering directions in it’s ear”

“He looked quite happy hitching a free ride and getting a meal. He ate from the capybara’s fur then snapped up any insects the rodent disturbed while eating amongst the grass and water hyacinth.” 

“You could see the bird jumping up in the air and doing somersaults to catch the insects. I thought that it was quite a sight, but judging by the capybara’s expression he didn’t agree”

“This sort of relationship is quite a common occurrence and several species of birds increase their feeding rate by associating with capybara or other large mammals.”

Capybaras are closely related to guinea pigs but weigh in at around 55 kg and grow up to a metre long. They live in grassy wetland areas or close to rivers and can gather in herds of hundreds. They carry out most of their activities on land, using water as a refuge to cool down and to escape their main predator the jaguar. But even in the water they arn’t safe, with 10 million Caiman eager to make a meal of a young Capybara. These giant rodents are also eaten by humans, and some South American Catholics allow themselves to eat salted capybara meat during Lent, because they are aquatic animals.  

Paul, from Bristol, travels across the world to film wildlife. He said the Pantanal in Brazil, where he took the shots, was probably one of the best places to see wildlife in Brazil, and South America. The whole wetland is almost as big as the United Kingdom and spreads more than 195,000 square kilometres across Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay. Like the Capybara and jaguar many of the animals and plants are giants, including the jabiru bird, giant otters and water lilies.

Paul's images can be seen on his website