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Parent Birds Who Share Feeding Responsibilities Raise Young More Successfully

Dec 07, 2015 02:22 PM EST
Long-Tailed Tit
Some birds, such as the long-tailed tit pictured here, share feeding responsibilities in order to successfully raise young and protect them from predators.
(Photo : Wikimedia Commons )

Sharing parental responsibilities benefit some bird families, say researchers from the University of Sheffield, who studied birds called long-tailed tits that took turns feeding their chicks. Sharing the workload helps these birds survive and allows them to raise their young more successfully.

"Parents with a young baby often take turns to do the grueling night-time feeds so that neither of them gets too exhausted," Kat Bebbington, lead author of the study, said in a news release. "This is a situation we are all familiar with as humans, but there's almost no evidence for animals doing this in nature."

Well-rested parents, it turns out, are able to locate and therefore provide their young with more food as well as protect them from predators better than workaholic birds who feed their young intermittently, researchers explained.

"Our research shows that for long-tailed tits at least, coordinating and alternating parental responsibilities like feeding can mean the difference between life and death for chicks," Bebbington added.

Long-tailed tits (Aegithalidae) are small-bodied birds with a relatively long tail, short legs and tiny bill. The birds can be found throughout the U.K. in wooded areas or hedgerows, where they find primarily on insects, but occasionally enjoy seeds in the fall and winter.

For the birds' feeding strategy to be most effective, they arrive at the nest at the same time to ensure they spend less time flying around and attracting predators, such as foxes and crows. This also allows the parents to keep track of whose turn it is to feed.

"Most animals provide care for their young, but birds, and people, are unusual because care is often provided by both parents. This situation generates conflict between the parents because each of them would like their partner to take a greater share of parenting effort," Bebbington explained.  "How parents negotiate to resolve this conflict has rarely been investigated, but 'tit-for-tat' alternation of visits provides one potential solution to the problem."

Their study, recently published in the journal Behavioral Ecology, is the first to show that coordinated parental care is more successful in raising young. In turn, this finding could be used to better understand the evolution of parenting in some species.  

"This "tit-for-tat" style bargaining might also work in other areas of life – at work we all negotiate our tasks with others to make sure the workload is shared, and in nature animals can do the same when feeding offspring, fighting predators or sharing food," Bebbington concluded

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

-Follow Samantha on Twitter @Sam_Ashley13

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