Murder in the Jungle – How to Train Young Birds to Fear Predators
Many exotic avian species are seriously threatened. Extinction could be just around the corner unless something is done. In order to increase the number of individuals in the wild, birds are bred in captivity before being released. But how do you teach these birds what they should fear in the wild so they don’t become sitting ducks?
The Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program is employing an interesting method of teaching rare parrots – fake murders!
Creating Fake Victims
Parrots being prepared for release into the wild are treated to a little show. A parrot of a different species is tethered to a tree wearing a leather vest for protection. A conservationist then approaches the tethered bird with a hawk which lunges at the parrot causing it to scream and to emit a sound which is only made when the birds fears that death is imminent. The hawk is then withdrawn. These experiments do cause distress to the fake victim but for the benefit of many rare birds.
Fake Hawks and Attacking Cages
These simulated attacks are a ruse to teach the Puerto Rican parrots which are about to be released into the wild about the dangers of the hawks. Critically endangered and found nowhere else on earth, the little green Puerto Rican Parrots are being educated in the hope that they will be able to survive when released. It is important that the birds are able to recognise a predator. Their training also involves flying a hawk-shaped cut-out over the birds’ aviary and having a real hawk attack their cage.
A Dilemma for Conservationists
For endangered species, even a small increase in their numbers can really help to prevent them becoming extinct. But when the animals are bred in captivity to ensure the survival of the young, the birds can lose their survival instinct and so are less likely to prosper when released. The situation has left conservationists with a dilemma. Should they risk injury or worse to one bird in order to save many others? The latest methods being employed, including the use of the protective vest, appear to be a happy medium and are yielding good results.
The Fate of Uneducated Birds
A project in Hawaii has shown how important it can be to train birds before release. Five crows which had been bred in captivity were released into the wild and in an area where the birds had not been seen for 15 years. Within just one week of their release, three of the birds were dead. Two had been killed by Hawaiian hawks. The project leaders then sought assistance from the experts in Puerto Rico and are now employing many of the same techniques to help the crows.
Even though the birds being taught do not witness another bird being killed, what they do see has proved effective in training them to be wary of potential predators. The fake murders are sufficiently scary to leave a lasting impression!