‘Divide and rule’—raven politics

 Cognitive biologists now revealed that ravens use a "divide and rule" strategy in dealing with the bonds of conspecifics. Credit: Jorg Massen

Cognitive biologists now revealed that ravens use a “divide and rule” strategy in dealing with the bonds of conspecifics. Credit: Jorg Massen

Mythology has attributed many supernatural features to ravens. Studies on the cognitive abilities of ravens have indeed revealed that they are exceptionally intelligent. Ravens live in complex social groups and they can gain power by building social bonds that function as alliances. Cognitive biologists of the University of Vienna now revealed that ravens use a ‘divide and rule’ strategy in dealing with the bonds of conspecifics: Socially well integrated ravens prevent others from building new alliances by breaking up their bonding attempts.

Thomas Bugnyar and his team have been studying the behavior of approximately 300 wild ravens in the Northern Austrian Alps for years. They observed that ravens slowly build alliances through affiliative interactions such as grooming and playing. However, they also observed that these affiliative interactions were regularly interrupted by a third individual. Although in about 50 % of the cases these interventions were successful and broke up the two affiliating ravens, intervening can be potentially risky when the two affiliating ravens team up and chase away the intervening individual. Continue reading

Birds Build Nests with Camouflage in Mind

 Scientists in the U.K. observed zebra finches making nest-building choices that took into account how well the color of materials would camouflage their homes.

Scientists in the U.K. observed zebra finches making nest-building choices that took into account how well the color of materials would camouflage their homes.

Researchers have recorded the first direct evidence that birds consider the notion of camouflage when they choose colored materials for their nests.

A team from the University of St. Andrews wallpapered male zebra finch cages in different colors. Then they filmed the birds building their nests, giving them paper strip choices for nest material in two different colors.

The scientists observed that the finches largely chose paper strips for their nest that were a match with the paper covering the walls of their cages. This told them that birds will actively seek to match a nest’s colors with those of its surroundings, and that what often looks like coincidental camouflage may indeed be a deliberate choice.

One interesting curve ball the finches threw at the researchers was to sometimes choose a small proportion of paper strips for their nests that was a mismatch with the wallpaper. The scientists think this means birds sometimes use a tactic called disruptive camouflage, wherein bits of clashing color break up the outline of the nest and make it look less like a bird lives there.

Prior evidence abounds for the idea that birds will move a nest elsewhere if predators lurk too close by, but the St. Andrews team asserts it has shown that birds may also try in more subtle ways to avoid predators.

“Like us (birds) don’t choose just any colored material to build their homes; they avoid colors that would clash with their surroundings. Knowing this gives us a better idea of how birds may actively reduce the chances of predators finding their nests,” said the report’s author, Dr. Ida Bailey.

The team’s work has just been published in the ornithological journal The AUK.

Source; Discovery News

Magpies don’t like shiny objects

Magpies do not steal trinkets and are positively scared of shiny objects, according to new research

Magpies do not steal trinkets and are positively scared of shiny objects, according to new research

It is considered the villain of the animal kingdom – a pilferer obsessed with stealing trinkets.

But it appears the magpie has been unfairly maligned all along.

For despite its centuries-old reputation, new research suggests that the bird is not attracted to shiny objects after all.

In fact, as animal psychologists have discovered, magpies are actually quite repelled by unfamiliar items.

The idea of the magpie as a pilferer that steals sparkly items for its nest is a common theme in European folklore.

Rossini made it the theme of his 1817 opera The Thieving Magpie, in which a servant girl is executed for stealing silver jewellery that had been pinched by a bird. Continue reading

Ravens Understand The Relationships Among Other Ravens

 Image Caption: This image shows the interaction of two ravens. Credit: Georgine Szipl

Image Caption: This image shows the interaction of two ravens. Credit: Georgine Szipl

Like many social mammals, ravens form different types of social relationships – they may be friends, kin, or partners and they also form strict dominance relations. From a cognitive perspective, understanding one’s own relationships to others is a key ability in daily social life (“knowing who is nice or not”). Yet, understanding also the relationships group members have with each other sets the stage for “political” maneuvers (“knowing who might support whom”). The results of this study have been published in the scientific journal Nature Communications. Continue reading

New research conducted at Harvard demonstrates sharing behavior in African grey parrots

In her research, Irene Pepperberg found that Griffin, an African grey parrot, gradually came to understand that he would get a better payoff by picking the green cup — and sharing the reward. Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

In her research, Irene Pepperberg found that Griffin, an African grey parrot, gradually came to understand that he would get a better payoff by picking the green cup — and sharing the reward. Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

“I think people usually think of the natural world as being akin to Tennyson’s ‘Nature, red in tooth and claw,’ ” said Irene Pepperberg, a psychology researcher and co-author of the study. “But this type of sharing isn’t unheard of in the wild. In a mated pair, for example, birds often share food or engage in reciprocal grooming.” Continue reading

Great tit has a bird’s eye view when looking for dinner

Birds that hoard food for a rainy day better be sure that there are no great tits around to spy on where they hide their reserve of seeds and nuts. So says Anders Brodin and Utku Urhan of the University of Lund in Sweden, who found that great tits can remember the position of such hideaways up to 24 hours after seeing it cached. Continue reading