Bad reputation of crows demystified

The 326 interactions between corvids and their prey, shows that they have a much smaller effect on other bird species than was previously thought. Credit: Jorge Piñeiro

The 326 interactions between corvids and their prey, shows that they have a much smaller effect on other bird species than was previously thought. Credit: Jorge Piñeiro

In literature, crows and ravens arebad omens and are associated with witches. Most people believe they steal, eat other birds’ eggs and reduce the populations of other birds. But a new study, which has brought together over 326 interactions between corvids and their prey, demonstrates that their notoriety is not entirely merited.

Corvids—the bird group that includes crows, ravens and magpies—are the subject of several population control schemes, in both game and conservation environments. These controls are based on the belief that destroying them is good for other birds. They are also considered to be effective predators capable of reducing the populations of their prey. Continue reading

Study says sneaky females outwit males

 Sneaky females outwit males when pilfering food from close relatives (Credit: Alamy)


Sneaky females outwit males when pilfering food from close relatives (Credit: Alamy)

If you can’t find your own food, why not simply steal meals that others have stored for later?

A sneaky tactic perhaps, but one crucial for survival for the common songbird, the great tit.

What’s more, female tits are better at pulling off such heists than males, new research has discovered.

Outsmarting the opposite sex in this way may enable female tits to compensate for the males’ domineering personalities.

Great tits belong in the Paridae family. Their relatives in the same family, such as marsh tits, habitually store food.

Great tits do not. Instead they watch where their relatives store it and then pilfer their food caches. Continue reading

Bird battles promote unity on the front line

 Credit: (c) Warwick Tarboton

Credit: (c) Warwick Tarboton

Like the Three Musketeers’ famous strategy of ‘all for one, and one for all’, birds marshal their troops to defend key resources when threatened by rivals, new research from the University of Bristol has found.

Biologists Dr Andy Radford and Dr Tim Fawcett found that groups of green woodhoopoes unite at nightfall following a territorial conflict with their neighbours. Such disputes prompt these African birds to spend the night together in the conflict zone, strengthening their defence of the most valuable roost sites. Continue reading

Drongos deceive but weavers let them

The fork-tailed drongo steals many of its meals by deception, scaring away other birds and animals by imitating alarm calls. But some of those warnings are real, and at least one bird species, the sociable weaver, pays attention.

The fork-tailed drongo steals many of its meals by deception, scaring away other birds and animals by imitating alarm calls. But some of those warnings are real, and at least one bird species, the sociable weaver, pays attention.

Fork-tailed drongos are the bullies in this sub-Saharan story. These birds are masterful deceivers that can mimic the warning noises of 45 or so other birds and animals, sending their victims running and letting the drongos steal a meal.

When the birds hustle to steal food, they mimic alarms of other species more than 40 percent of the time — and use the victim’s own species’ alarms more often than another target’s. The mimicry works. Researchers played various recorded false alarms for birds called pied babblers, a frequent target of the drongos’ fraud. Mimicked alarm calls of the babblers or of another bird distracted the babblers for longer than plain drongo alarms.

Continue reading

Why are those birds up so early?

Ernst Vikne/Wikimedia Commons

Ernst Vikne/Wikimedia Commons

Chirping birds can be a delight to wake up to in the morning, unless they’re up and at ’em a little too early. But don’t blame our feathered friends—they may just be confused about what time it is, a new study suggests. Ornithologists observed six common species of birds to see how artificial light and traffic noise affect their daily songs. Continue reading

Promiscuous males die young, childless females live longer

A study of birds by researchers from our Department of Biology & Biochemsitry in collaboration with the University of Sheffield shows for the first time how sexual behaviour is linked with life expectancy and can cause an imbalance in sex ratios.

The research could be used to predict the causes and effects of unbalanced sex ratios in human populations.

The team of scientists have previously shown that the adult sex ratio (ASR, the ratio of males to females) affects mating behaviour in terms of mate choice, divorce rates, infidelity and promiscuity, and also determines the parenting roles of males and females. Continue reading