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THE WAGTAILS AND THE SHEEP

One of my more unusual sightings in Mallorca last month involved some Yellow Wagtails and 3 sheep. I watched a ewe and her 2 lambs grazing in a stony field while as many as 5 wagtails were feeding on the ground extremely close by encircling them. At times 1-2 birds were seen walking between the legs of the ewe at apparent risk of being trampled. I was too far away to see precisely what these wagtails were eating. However, I suspect that the birds were eating insects that were being dislodged from the short-cropped grass the animals were munching or perhaps from insect swarms attracted to the animals - invisible to me at a distance.

I don't recall seeing such behaviour before. However, it reminded me of Cattle Egrets that feed among herds of cows and are known to remove parasitic ticks from these animals. A key difference with the wagtails was the lack of obvious benefit to the 'host animal', although I did not see any of the 3 sheep trying to flush the birds away.


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