Size-based predation by kookaburras (Dacelo novaeguineae) on lizards (Eulamprus tympanum: Scincidae): what determines prey vulnerability?

Simon P. Blomberg*, Richard Shine

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Citations (Scopus)


Lizards and birds are both popular 'model organisms' in behavioural ecology, but the interactions between them have attracted little study. Given the putative importance of birds as predators of diurnal lizards, it is of considerable interest to know which traits (of lizards as well as birds) influence the outcome of a predatory attempt. We studied predation by giant terrestrial kingfishers (kookaburras, Dacelo novaeguineae: Alcedinidae) on heliothermic diurnal lizards (highland water skinks, Eulamprus tympanum: Scincidae), with particular reference to the role of prey (lizard) size. Our approach was twofold: to gather direct evidence (sizes of lizards consumed in the field, compared to those available) and indirect evidence (size-related shifts in lizard behaviour). We quantified the size structure of a natural population of skinks (determined by an extensive mark-recapture program), and compared it to the sizes of wild lizards taken by kookaburras (determined by analysis of prey remains left at the birds' nests). Kookaburras showed size-based predation: they preyed mainly on small and medium-sized rather than large lizards in the field. However, the mechanism producing this bias remains elusive. It is not due to any distinctive behavioural attributes (locomotor ability, activity level, habitat usage) of the lizards of the size class disproportionately taken by the kookaburras. The greater vulnerability of subadult lizards may reflect subtle ontogenetic shifts in ecological and behavioural traits, but our data suggest that great caution is needed in inferring patterns of vulnerability to predation from indirect measures based on either the prey or the predator alone. Instead, we need direct observations on the interaction between the two.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)484-489
Number of pages6
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • Predation
  • Eulamprus lizard
  • Bird selection


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