Wild Birds Would Rather Be Hungry Than Lovesick

Wild Birds Would Rather Be Hungry Than Lovesick
Research shows mating pairs of great tits would rather stay together and be a little hungrier than dine alone. Photo by taviphoto/Shutterstock

OXFORD, England, Nov. 12 (UPI/Brooks Hays) — Wild birds are love birds. A recent study found great tits pairs were willing to forego reliable food sources in order to stay together.

Using a unique bird feeding experiment, researchers at the University of Oxford revealed the great tits’ commitment to love. Scientists designed feeders to only allow access to birds tagged with the matching radio frequency transmitter.

Some great tit pairs were tagged so mates were unable to access from from the same feeder. One bird would have access to only certain feeders, while the other would have access to others — no overlap.

Compared to pairs allowed to feed at the same feeder, separated pairs spend less time feeding. Presumably, they couldn’t bear to be apart.

Of course, this isn’t simply sentimentalism, but an evolved form of self-preservation and species perpetuation. Birds need each other to survive and reproduce.

“The choice to stay close to their partner over accessing food demonstrates 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,” lead researcher Josh Firth said in a press release. “For instance, great tits require a partner to be able to reproduce and raise their chicks.”

“Therefore, even in wild animals, an individual’s behavior can be governed by aiming to accommodate the needs of those they are socially attached to,” Firth added.

The birds were so keen on sticking together that they even figured out a way to infiltrate the exclusive feeders together.

“When birds were going to feeding stations they couldn’t access because their mate was there, they learned over time to ‘scrounge’ from those feeders by taking advantage of the fact the feeders remained unlocked for two seconds after recognizing a bird’s identification tag,” Firth explained.

“Interestingly, a relatively large amount of this scrounging was enabled by the bird’s own partner unlocking the feeding station, suggesting it may be a cooperative strategy.”

The study was published in the journal Current Biology.


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