Sheep graze at a ranch
DATE IMPORTED:24 April, 2018Sheep graze at a ranch in Portezuelo, Spain, April 23, 2018. Picture taken April 23, 2018. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

Long considered one of the meekest creatures in the animal kingdom, sheep have been revealed to have a bloodthirsty side with a taste for tiny chicks and the eggs of wild birds.

Sheep, long assumed to be consummate herbivores, have shown there is a little bit of predatory wolf beneath that woolly exterior, a BBC nature documentary has reported.

In several regions of Britain they have been recorded munching on the eggs and chicks of ground-nesting wild birds.

In a recent episode of the popular Springwatch 2018, on BBC2, amazed viewers watched as a hidden camera revealed a sheep nuzzling a curlew wadding bird off of its nest and devouring its eggs, in a recording made by RSPB and the University of East Anglia.

Presenter Chris Packham also quoted another study, on the Isle of Foula in the Shetlands in Scotland, in which sheep were observed killing and eating hundreds of arctic tern chicks.

Why the sheep have so radically departed from their bucolic diet to suddenly turn slightly carnivorous has perplexed scientists.

“What we think is happening here is they're coming across these nests and there is some nutrient deficiency in their diet, it maybe it's just the calcium in the egg shells they want , and it is this that is leading them to eat them,” explained Packham.

Likewise, deer also have a taste for eggs if the opportunity arises. In fact, the deer’s reputation as a gentle Bambi-figure is misplaced and they’ve been known to feast on fish, dead rabbits and even the guts of other deer.

Indeed, last year, a deer was spotted eating human remains. Photographs of the unprecedented sight were captured by researchers at the Forensic Anthropology Research Facility from Texas State University.

A human corpse was left on a 26-acre woodland site, known as a "body farm," as part of a study to see how human bodies decompose in the wild – including the way animals interact with them.

Other animals, including foxes and vultures, are often seen snacking on decomposing bodies but this is the first time that a deer, which primarily eats leaves, has been seen helping itself.

The white-tailed deer tucked into one of the corpse's rib bones after it had been left in the wild for 182 days.

Texas State scientists wrote in a paper that the deer gnawed "amusingly, as extending from the side of the mouth like a cigar."

They believe he was chewing the bone to extract the marrow, a rich source of nutrients. Other ungulates, such as sheep, are known to chew bones from time to time.