Science

The Cute Bird Playing With a Golf Ball Is Actually Trying to Kill It

A Red-Legged SeriemaARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
A skeptical seriema.
MARK RALSTON/Getty Images

Red-legged seriemas are birds with the approximate height and wiriness of a greyhound dog. They like to throw things. In a video currently making the rounds (again), one picks up a golf ball with its beak and confidently drops it on a concrete path. The bird startled when the ball, rather than breaking, bounces. And then it bounces the ball a second time, seemingly on purpose. Cute, right?

In another video, a pair of three-month old seriema chicks repeatedly drop whiffle balls on the ground at the St Louis Zoo:

What is actually happening here is that the seriemas are trying to murder the balls. It’s possible that the serimeias, which are native to South America, mistook the balls for eggs and were merely trying to break them open, says Kenn Kaufmann, a birder and field editor for Audubon Magazine. But seremias can be more vicious than that. “A number of sources say that seriemas may kill active vertebrate prey (like reptiles or rodents) by slamming the creatures against the ground or throwing them at hard surfaces,” Kaufmann explained to me in an email. The seremias’ behavior is a step beyond most birds’ murder techniques: “Many bird species will bash their prey repeatedly against a perch or against the ground, but throwing seems more risky, since there’s a chance the animal will escape.”

Here’s a video of a captive seriema hurling a toad against the ground:

And a video of a captive seriema demonstrating the behavior on a plastic lizard:

Finally, here is a seriema trying to kill a set of keys:

Nature is cruel!