Bird ‘paints’ its own eggs with bacteria to protect the embryo

A hoophoe Credit: JC BALLESTEROS

A hoophoe Credit: JC BALLESTEROS

Researchers from the University of Granada and the Higher Council of Scientific Research (CSIC) have found that hoophoes cover their eggs with a secretion produced by themselves, loaded with mutualistic bacteria, which is then retained by a specializad structure in the eggshell and which increases successful hatching. So far this sort of behaviour has only been detected in this species of birds, and it is a mechanism to protect their eggs from infections by pathogens.

Through an experiment published in the Journal of Animal Ecology, scientists from several research groups precluded several female hoophoes from impregnating their eggs with this substance, which they produce themselves inside the so-called uropygial gland. The research groups involved in this project were the following: Animal Behaviour and Ecology, Microorganism-Produced Antagonistic Substances, both from the UGR, and Evolutive Ecology and the Behaviour and Conservation groups from the Dry Areas Experimental Station (Almería, CSIC). Continue reading

Birds conform to local ‘traditions’

Birds learn new foraging techniques by observing others in their social network, ‘copycat’ behaviour that can sustain foraging ‘traditions’ that last years, according to a study of how innovations spread and persist in wild great tits (Parus major).

The study involved experiments with eight local populations of great tits in Wytham Woods, Oxfordshire (UK). In five of the populations two male birds were trained to slide a puzzle box door either to the left or to the right. In three control groups two males were captured but not trained. The birds were then released back into their original populations to act as ‘innovators’, together with puzzle boxes that revealed a tasty mealworm reward when opened from either side. Electronic tags on the birds recorded how the two box-opening methods spread in each of the local populations through social network links.

Despite both methods working equally well, the team, led by Oxford University researchers, found that each experimental population strongly favoured the puzzle-solving solution that had been introduced by the trained birds. The preference for this arbitrary solution increased over time, forming a stable tradition. In the control populations, by contrast, it took much longer for birds to learn to solve the puzzle box.

When the experiments were repeated a year later each population still favoured their own ‘traditional’ method even though only 40% of each population of 75-100 birds were survivors from the previous year. The researchers were able to show that, even when birds discovered both ways of opening the puzzle-box, they were much more likely to use the behaviour that was dominant in their local population; in other words, they conformed to the behaviour in their local population.

The research, reported in this week’s Nature, is the first experimental demonstration of the spread of culture, and the operation of conformist learning in a wild non-primate. The team included scientists from the University of Ottawa, Canada, the Australian National University, Canberra, Australia and the University of Exeter, UK, and was supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the European Research Council (ERC).

‘In humans, new traditions arise when novel behaviours spread through social network ties via a process of observational learning. But we really have very little knowledge if similar processes are happening in animal populations,’ said report author Dr Lucy Aplin of Oxford University’s Department of Zoology. ‘We were able to experimentally demonstrate that sustained foraging traditions can occur in wild great tits. This appears to have been partly due to a process of conformity – the birds were preferentially copying the majority behaviour.’

Read the whole article on Physorg

Who will come to your bird feeder in 2075?

Birdfeeders

Birdfeeders

The distribution of birds in the United States today will probably look very different in 60 years as a result of climate, land use and land cover changes.

A new U.S. Geological Survey study predicts where 50 bird species will breed, feed and live in the conterminous U.S. by 2075. While some types of birds, like the Baird’s sparrow, will likely lose a significant amount of their current U.S. range, other ranges could nearly double. Human activity will drive many of these shifts. The study was published today in the journal PLOS ONE. Continue reading

Beating Monk Parakeets at Their Own Game

A pair of Monk Parakeets sitting on a powerline just outside their nest in Stratford, Conn. The nests can weigh up to 200 pounds or more. (Kevin Burgio ’10 (CLAS)/UConn Photo)

A pair of Monk Parakeets sitting on a powerline just outside their nest in Stratford, Conn. The nests can weigh up to 200 pounds or more. (Kevin Burgio ’10 (CLAS)/UConn Photo)

In a study published this week in the online journal PeerJ, University of Connecticut researchers announce they have found a way to prevent Monk Parakeets (Myiopsitta monarchus), an invasive species of parrot, from building huge nests that create power outages and public hazards on utility poles by blocking their access to the electric lines that are the gateway to their nest sites.

The nests, which are built out of sticks and twigs, can weigh up to 200 pounds or more. The damage they cause can cost electric utility companies millions of dollars annually. Continue reading

Burnt out birds suggest hard work could be bad for your health

 A team of scientists at the University of Exeter studied white-browed sparrow weavers, a social species in which all group members share offspring care duties, but the dominant male and female work hardest. Credit: Dominic Cram Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2014-09-burnt-birds-hard-bad-health.html#jCp

A team of scientists at the University of Exeter studied white-browed sparrow weavers, a social species in which all group members share offspring care duties, but the dominant male and female work hardest. Credit: Dominic Cram

Unequal sharing of workloads in societies could leave the most industrious individuals at higher risk of poor health and prone to accelerated ageing, according to a new study of a cooperative bird in the Kalahari Desert.

A team of scientists at the University of Exeter studied white-browed sparrow weavers, a social species in which all group members share offspring care duties, but the dominant male and female work hardest.

Dominants are the only birds that breed, with dominant males singing to attract a mate and dominant females producing all of the eggs and providing most of the care for nestlings. Continue reading

Songbird student pilots delay departure and make frequent stopovers during first migration

 A close-up of a wood thrush. Credit: Kevin Fraser

A close-up of a wood thrush. Credit: Kevin Fraser

Juvenile songbirds on spring migration travel from overwintering sites in the tropics to breeding destinations thousands of kilometres away with no prior experience to guide them. Now, a new study out of York University has tracked these “student pilots” on their first long-haul flight and found significant differences between the timing of juvenile migration and that of experienced adults.

“Juveniles departed later from their overwinter sites in Belize and Costa Rica relative to adults, and they became progressively later as they moved northwards because they stopped for more days,” says York U researcher Emily McKinnon, the study’s lead author. “By the time they arrived at breeding sites they were almost 2 weeks behind the adults, and overall their migration took 50 per cent longer in terms of days spent traveling.” Continue reading