Scientists have observed a peculiar bird behavior in choosing partners over food access. Yet, this reinforces previous findings that many bird species hold true to the ‘till death do us ‘part’. They just don’t know that’s what we call love.
There are many species in the animal kingdom that form monogamous pairs lasting a lifetime. Endearing as it may be, scientists with the Oxford University decided to test the endurance of such pairs when ‘for better or worse’ part comes in. Particularly, they focused their study on great tits pairs and how they behave towards their partners when access to food and thus a significant component of survival is restricted.
With this experiment scientists observed a peculiar bird behavior in choosing partners over food. When access to food is restricted or only one partner has the possibility to nourish itself, the birds choose to let go of the privilege and stay close to their partners.
It stands that maintaining and caring for the pair the birds have created is perceived as a much more beneficial aspect on the long-term. Mating, reproducing and caring for the brood takes precedence over satisfying immediate survival needs.
The lead scientist on the project, Josh Firth of the Oxford University stated:
“The choice to stay close to their partner over accessing food demonstrated how an individual bird’s decisions in the short term, which might appear sub-optimal, can actually be shaped around gaining the long-term benefits of maintaining their key relationships”.
While the study was focused on great tits, Firth suspects the same findings could be valid for many other bird species like lovebirds, swans or eagles or even geese. Great tits showed great endurance and resilience in the face of a potential sub-nourishment threat. The reverse of the medal was that they took care of their partners, placing their needs first.
Great tits are a common sight in our gardens, parks and forests. During spring you will notice them hopping around from branch to branch in pairs. During winters, they will form flocks that put the common interest above individual needs, swarming around for food.
In order to test the great tits pairs, the scientists first attached tags to each one of the birds. Working on radio frequency identification, the tags would allow the great tits to gain access to a number of automated feeding stations. With some of the great tits pairs the system was rigged to allow males to access exclusively those feeding stations that couldn’t be accessed by the females. The reverse was also true.
These birds showed the true extent of their loyalty. Finding that they cannot access the same food source, they preferred to remain with their partners rather than search for another food source separately.
At the same time, some of the pairs devised a system that would ensure both partners get fed. The bird having access to the food source would unlock the feeding station, while its partner would rush in to gulp on the nourishment. The roles would then switch.
In addition, those who couldn’t get access to the feeding stations formed flocks with other pairs, preferring to stick together as a community that could provide for the needs of at least some individuals.
The findings of the study are featuring in the Current Biology journal.
Photo Credits: Wikimedia