Quirks & Quarks

Birds Conform to Local Traditions

Birds pick up social conventions simply because others around them do.
Great tit wearing a tag (Molly Hartwood)
In humans, traditions arise when a particular behaviour is widely observed, then spread though social networks. Now, a new study by Dr. Julie Morand-Ferron from the Department of Biology at the University of Ottawa, has found that the same is true in populations of Great Tit songbirds in the United Kingdom. In her experiment, songbirds were able to learn a particular foraging technique in a lab. A reward was provided by sliding a door of a 'puzzle-box' to the left for some or to the right for others. When they were released back into the wild, the selection of either left or right, using the same boxes, was observed and then used by others in their respective populations. Even though many of the birds do not survive from one season to the next, the 'tradition' of this foraging technique was carried on, as the birds conformed to what they observed locally.     

Related Links

Paper in Nature
- University of Ottawa release
- Oxford University release
- Discovery News story

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