Weird bird behavior - why was a flock of birds following a tortoise?
July 23, 2022 4:27 AM   Subscribe

Yesterday my wife took our tortoise Jeri to a local park (Washington Square in Philadelphia) to let her explore a new place. Once Jeri got sufficiently far away from my wife and other people, a large flock of birds landed on the ground and start following her.

This went on for quite some time attracting the attention of other people in the park. When they came close the birds would all fly away but when they retreated the birds would return to Jeri and continue following her. The birds didn't attack her or bother her. They just followed her as she walked around the park.

None of the numerous birds that come to our backyard have ever paid any attention to Jeri as far as I can tell. Why were these birds in the park following her?
posted by nolnacs to Science & Nature (5 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
My guess is Jeri was kicking up insects, but it's purely speculation.
posted by beccaj at 5:00 AM on July 23, 2022 [13 favorites]

Maybe they mistook her for a giant mobile breadcrumb?

More seriously, I was going to suggest that they were "mobbing" - when lots of birds sort of team up to scare off something bigger - but that's more often something that birds do on the wing against other birds, and besides most of them just seem to be standing there watching her (as you say, they don't seem to be harassing her at all)!

Part of me also wants to say "maybe they're just curious" but in general birds are really suspicious of novelty (although city park sparrows are pretty bold).
posted by mskyle at 5:42 AM on July 23, 2022 [1 favorite]

Jeri was the most interesting thing to happen to those birds in five years.
posted by amtho at 5:59 AM on July 23, 2022 [25 favorites]

These are house sparrows. They eat insects, discarded food, and seeds. The behavior you see is called mobbing, which can be done to scare away a threat, protect young, protect a food source, etc. So they could have done this for any of these reasons. Were they feeding on discarded food in this area before your tortoise joined the party? Are they all nesting nearby and saw Jeri as a threat? Hard to say.
posted by eleslie at 6:33 AM on July 23, 2022 [6 favorites]

Many birds have an instinct that following large herbivores is a safe space to forage.
posted by nickggully at 7:32 AM on July 23, 2022 [11 favorites]

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