Making a clean getaway: Scientists demonstrate how bird baths make for more accurate flyers

Sep 17, 2009
Making a clean getaway: Scientists demonstrate how bird baths make for more accurate flyers

(PhysOrg.com) -- Newcastle University scientists investigating why starlings bathe so often have discovered it alters their escape behaviour, with clean birds proving the most accurate flyers.

When sent through an aerial obstacle course, birds that had bathed were slow but accurate, whilst birds that hadn’t were faster but suffered more collisions.

Writing in the journal Animal Behaviour, the team suggests this is because a bird’s sense of anxiety may be linked to its bathing regime - with unwashed birds the most likely to get into a flap.

Newcastle University’s Dr Ben Brilot and colleagues carried out the study after observing that captive birds often bathed after sessions in which they had been caught and handled, suggesting that bathing may help to realign feathers that have been damaged or disordered.

They set up a series of experiments to test this, where birds’ escape responses were measured after being handled and then being given access to either full or empty bird baths.

Each bird was startled into an escape response by a loud bang played as its cage was opened, and was assessed by means of an aerial obstacle course comprising 38 weighted strings hanging from the ceiling.

European starlings that had been given access to bathing water just prior to the test flew more accurately through the obstacle course, hitting fewer strings than birds that were denied a bathing opportunity.

Whilst avoiding more strings, birds that had bathed flew more slowly through the course, explained Dr Brilot.

“These differences may reflect differences in the way that birds perceive risk in the environment. Birds that can bathe may have greater manoeuvrability, hence worry less about escaping as fast as possible, and choose instead to avoid damaging themselves in collisions with the obstacles.

“Non-bathers, on the other hand, may have perceived a greater threat in their release conditions, both from the noise and presence of humans, and therefore chose to escape as fast as possible, weighing the risk of collision as less important than the need to escape.”

The researchers suggest that lack of bathing may increase anxiety in captive birds due to their compromised ability to escape from potential danger, and that this anxiety produces the speed-accuracy trade-off.

Dr Louise Barrett, Executive Editor of Animal Behaviour, commented: “As well as helping us to understand the function of bathing, Brilot and colleagues’ findings have major welfare implications. Making sure that captive can bathe regularly and freely may avoid the undue stress that poor feather condition might cause them.

“Bathing could therefore be essential not only for their physical health, but also for their mental health.”

More information: Water bathing alters the speed-accuracy trade-off of escape flights in European starlings. Ben O.Brilot, Lucy Asher and Melissa Bateson; Published in: , doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2009.07.022
Provided by Newcastle University

Explore further: Science casts light on sex in the orchard

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

'Nervous' birds take more risks

Oct 26, 2007

Scientists have shown that birds with higher stress levels adopt bolder behaviour than their normally more relaxed peers in stressful situations. A University of Exeter research team studied zebra finches, which had been ...

What determines the speed at which birds fly?

Jul 17, 2007

Aerodynamic scaling rules that explain how flight varies according to weight and wing loading have been used to compare general speeds of a wide range of flyers, from the smallest insects to the largest aircraft. ...

Feed birds your Christmas leftovers

Dec 27, 2006

Christmas dinner leftovers may be beneficial to the birds in the garden, Britain's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said.

'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.

Birds quarantined at Texas pet stores

Mar 01, 2006

PetSmart Inc. has reportedly offered to quarantine birds at its Texas stores after two of them began showing signs of a bacterial infection.

Recommended for you

Science casts light on sex in the orchard

13 hours ago

Persimmons are among the small club of plants with separate sexes—individual trees are either male or female. Now scientists at the University of California, Davis, and Kyoto University in Japan have discovered ...

Four new dragon millipedes found in China

15 hours ago

A team of speleobiologists from the South China Agriculture University and the Russian Academy of Sciences have described four new species of the dragon millipedes from southern China, two of which seem to ...

Scientist creates automatic birdsong recognition app

18 hours ago

Dr Dan Stowell, an EPSRC Research Fellow in QMUL's School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, has used a grant from Queen Mary Innovation to develop a prototype for an app that turns his research ...

New research reveals fish are smarter than we thought

18 hours ago

(Phys.org) —A new study from researchers in our Department of Psychology with colleagues at Queen Mary University of London has reported the first evidence that fish are able to process multiple objects ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

docknowledge
not rated yet Sep 17, 2009
Or, it could be the other way around: Birds that are in better health and more confident pay more attention to personal grooming.
VOR
not rated yet Sep 20, 2009
it implies they tested the same birds both ways. crappy test if they didnt.

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.