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Andre Wille's picture

After climbing Colorado's 14,003 foot tall Mount Huron, I stumbled upon a surprising natural interaction between a Marmot and a songbird known as the Water Pipit. I am going to call it a crime scene, because of the heinous nature of the act that was committed by the marmot, and the extreme distress exhibited by the victim, the mother pipit. I first noticed something going on when I heard the repeated alarm calls of a small tan colored bird, amid a field of beautiful wildflowers. I recognized the bird as a pipit, and knowing that they nest only on the treeless tundra, I was intrigued. I figured that some animal must be threatening the bird's nest, so I watched for a minute. Something was going on here, and I wanted the solve the mystery. grizzly marmotThe not so innocent grizzly marmot. Sure enough, a marmot was eating willows nearby. The pipit began to dive bomb and peck at the head of the marmot, trying to drive it away. It must really be close to the nest I thought. After several minutes of heckling by the pipit, the marmot moved off. Marmot and PipitThis water pipit's nest has just been marauded by the inocent looking marmot.

Having spent several unsuccessful days looking for pipit nests as part of the Colorado Breeding Bird Atlas project, I moved in to take a look. What I found surprised me: a half eaten baby pipit! The marmot was a baby killer! The mother pipit was trying desperately to save the other three chicks- still featherless in the nest. I had caught this grizzly marmot in the act of eating babies! Nice cuddly furry marmots-bah! They are cold blooded killers.

Pipit nestWater Pipit nest

dead pipitThe victim of the crime <img

I guess everyone does what it takes to survive the harshness of the tundra. After all, it wasn't far from here that in 1874, Alfred Packer left his own carnage.


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Quinby Maple's picture

Quinby Maple said:

Are most tundra species omnivorous, or is it just as diverse as a more temperate zone?
Andre Wille's picture

Andre Wille replied:

I'm not really sure in terms of the diet of the overall animal fauna of the tundra. It is an interesting question though. In such a demanding climate, everything needs all the calories it can obtain. If it is omnivorous, like the marmot, it might be a little easier to survive. I do know there are many specialists in the tundra also. Pika, for example are herbivorous, and store large amounts of plant material for life under the snow of winter. (They don't hibernate, and remain active under the snow). Others, like the weasel are mostly carnivorous. On 9/23/14 12:56 PM, wrote:
Lizzie Ecclestone's picture

Lizzie Ecclestone said:

Did the marmot come back to try to eat the other birds, or did the marmot just leave?
Andre Wille's picture

Andre Wille replied:

It stuck around for as long as I did. I suspect when I left the area it came back and finished the meal is=t started. I imagine the other nestlings were also doomed. On 9/24/14 8:46 AM, wrote: