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Wild Birds Help Others with Parenting

Since the days of Charles Darwin, biologists have believed that all species are selfish. It has long been thought that any animal’s primary concern would be survival and the passing on of their genes. However, birds have been observed sacrificing their own chances of breeding to help other birds raise their young. What have these birds got to gain by devoting their energy to others or are their actions truly selfless?

Birds Which Postpone Reproduction

It has been found that in almost 10% of avian species across the globe, some individuals postpone reproduction to help other birds of the same species to care for their offspring. This behaviour can also be observed in certain mammals, fish and insects.

Many experts have believed that birds only help their own relatives as this would be one way of ensuring that their genes are passed on. But a new study has shown that birds also help non-family members.

New Research into Group Cooperation

Sjouke Kingma at the University of Gronigen in the Netherlands found that birds will help others, but only if they have something to gain. That something is often the chance to inherit territory. The findings refute more widely accepted ideas.

In his study, Kingma compared 44 species of birds, some of which were willing to help other birds while denying themselves their own offspring. Many birds would only be seen to help family members but there were examples of individuals assisting non-family members if there was the chance to inherit their territory in the future. Birds view territory as we would view our homes.

Group Living

Kingma also co-authored a report which suggested that there are several benefits for birds and other species if they engage in group living. As breeding positions may be limited, individuals may be persuaded to delay breeding in favour of helping others. This approach improves the survival rate of related individuals and gives the birds breeding experience so they are able to be better parents in the future. These birds may also benefit from the future cooperation of those they have helped to raise when it is their turn to breed.

Fringe Benefits

So, birds have learnt that there are significant fringe benefits to assisting others and that providing such assistance promotes the success of their own gene pool. Birds will help other birds but ultimately for selfish reasons.

Have you ever observed birds assisting others with their young? If you did, what species were the birds that you saw and where did you observe this behaviour? These interesting findings could be another compelling reason to feature .


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