Scientists gather the stomach contents from a baby tiger shark

By sampling tiger sharks’ stomach contents, researchers have revealed that these ocean-goers eat songbirds. Credit: Marcus Drymon

Ecology

Baby tiger sharks gobble up songbirds

Youngsters yet to perfect their hunting skills may scavenge birds such as swallows.

Tiger sharks are not picky eaters, even as babies. Youngsters of the striped sea predator snack on many species of bird, including some that live primarily on land.

Tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier) are notorious for their ability to eat just about anything, from sea turtles to rubber tyres. Marcus Drymon at Mississippi State University in Biloxi and his colleagues analysed the stomach contents of more than 100 tiger sharks caught off the coast of Mississippi and Alabama at various times of year. The authors found remains of land birds, such as swallows and wrens, in about 40% of the animals — nearly half of which were baby sharks.

How sharks come by land birds is not clear. Tiger sharks’ consumption of land birds occurred mainly during the birds’ migration season, and the researchers suspect that the sharks are snacking on migrating birds that fall into the ocean as a result of storms or fatigue.

This scavenging of land birds may offer young sharks a way to stay well fed until they learn effective hunting strategies, the scientists say.