Mobs rule for great tit neighbours

Apr 27, 2012
Mobs rule for great tit neighbours
Great tits join in mobs with familar birds Photo: Luc Viatour

(Phys.org) -- Great tits are more likely to join defensive mobs with birds in nearby nests that are ‘familiar neighbours’ rather than new arrivals, Oxford University research has found.

Many small birds will defend their nests by joint mobbing, where individuals gang up to harass a potential predator. Scientists studying great tit populations in Wytham Woods, Oxfordshire, wondered whether this sort of defensive behaviour might be behind observations showing that birds successfully raised more chicks when they were alongside familiar neighbours – those that had occupied the nest box next door for several breeding seasons.

After tagging the birds with paint to show which nest boxes they came from the researchers simulated the approach of a predator by rustling leaves and scraping a pole against individual trees and nest boxes. They then observed the mobbing behaviour of the great tits from this and nearby boxes, calculated the distances between boxes, and compared this with information on how long nearby birds had been neighbours.

‘We found that nesting join their neighbours' mob if they are familiar with them from the previous year but that birds that weren't familiar were less likely to join, and young that haven’t bred before didn’t join their neighbours at all,’ said Ada Grabowska-Zhang of Oxford University’s Department of Zoology who led the research.

But whilst the study showed, for the first time, a link between familiarity and nest defence, the behaviour may not be evidence of altruism and a ‘love thy neighbour’ approach:

‘It could be that they join because their own nest might also be at risk, or they may be playing ‘tit-for-tat’ and joining the mob because their familiar neighbours have joined theirs before,’ said Ms Grabowska-Zhang, ‘more work is needed to find out what is driving this remarkable behaviour.’

A report of the research, entitled ‘Long-term familiarity promotes joining in neighbour defence’, is published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.

Explore further: Telling the time of day by color

More information: rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/early/2012/04/24/rsbl.2012.0183

Related Stories

Birds benefit from knowing their neighbors

Dec 13, 2011

Being on good terms with your neighbors well certainly has its benefits. They might water your plants while you're on holiday, feed the cat, or even put your bins out.

Big personality birds find the best homes

Apr 18, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Birds willing to move around and take risks are better at finding the best places to live, researchers have found. Those with ‘fast-exploring’ personalities – birds tending ...

Puffins 'scout out' best migration route

Jul 21, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Individual Atlantic puffins 'scout out' their own migration routes rather than relying on genetic ‘programming’ or learning routes from a parent, a new study suggests.

'Early birds' adapt to climate change

May 09, 2008

Individual birds can adjust their behaviour to take climate change in their stride, according to a study by scientists from the University of Oxford.

'Alien' eggs benefit mockingbirds

Dec 07, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Mockingbirds rarely remove the ‘alien’ eggs parasitic cowbirds lay in their nests because keeping them dilutes the risk of their own eggs being attacked.

Recommended for you

Telling the time of day by color

8 hours ago

Research by scientists at The University of Manchester has revealed that the colour of light has a major impact on how the brain clock measures time of day and on how the animals' physiology and behavior adjust accordingly. ...

Aphrodisiac for fish and frogs discovered

13 hours ago

A supplement simply added to water has been shown to boost reproduction in nematodes (roundworms), molluscs, fish and frogs – and researchers believe it could work for humans too.

Evolution puts checks on virgin births

14 hours ago

It seems unnatural that a species could survive without having sex. Yet over the ages, evolution has endowed females of certain species of amphibians, reptiles and fish with the ability to clone themselves, ...

Humans can't resist those puppy-dog eyes

Apr 16, 2015

When humans and their four-legged, furry best friends look into one another's eyes, there is biological evidence that their bond strengthens, researchers report.

Roundworm parasite targets canine eyes

Apr 16, 2015

(HealthDay)—A small number of dogs and cats across the United States have been infected by a roundworm parasite that targets the eye, according to a new report.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.