NEWS

Migrating birds sprint in spring, but take things easy in autumn ScienceDaily (Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology paper) Selected by Jose L. Alcantara
Hummingbirds evolved a strange taste for sugar ScienceNews (Science paper) Selected by JL Alcantara
Group foraging in little penguins ScienceDaily ( PLoS ONE paper) Selected by R Jovani
Mixed Genes Mix Up the Migrations of Hybrid Birds ScienceNewsline (Ecology Letters paper) Selected by JL Alcantara
Dinosaurs 'shrank' regularly to become birds BBC (Science paper) Selected by JL Alcantara
Parrot Who Was Among Last of Its Kind, Said to Have Inspired ‘Rio,’ Dies National Geographic Society Selected by JL Alcantara
Researchers declassify dinosaurs as being the great-great-grandparents of birds Phys.org (Journal of Ornithology paper) Selected by JL Alcantara
Pristine fossil confirms Archaeopteryx as original bird United Press International (Nature paper) Selected by JL Alcantara
All gone: How erasing billions of birds shocked us Yahoo! News (PNAS paper) Selected by JL Alcantara
Plants hitch a lift on migrating birds BBC Nature (PeerJ paper) Selected by JL Alcantara
Mapping the evolution of a ring species Univ. British Columbbia (Nature paper) Selected by R Jovani
Closest Living Relative of Ancient Elephant Bird Is Tiny LiveScience (Science paper) Selected by JL Alcantara
Identifying evolutionary distinct birds WIRED (Current Biology paper) Selected by R Jovani
Ten Thousand Birds: Ornithology since Darwin Myriad Birds Selected by JL Alcantara
The 100 most distinct and rare birds BBC Nature (Current Biology paper) Selected by JL Alcantara
Hummingbird Evolution Soared After They Invaded South America 22 Million Years Ago ScienceNewsline (Current Biology paper) Selected by JL Alcantara
Bird’s Extinction Is Tied to the Arrival of Humans The New York Times (PNAS paper) Selected by JL Alcantara
A bird-like dinosaur called “Chicken from Hell” NPR news (PLOS One paper) Selected by JL Alcantara
Wintering irruptions of Snowy owls in North America and Europe (in Spanish) SEO/BirdLife blog Selected by R Jovani
Punk Amazon pheasant is a European emigrant NewScientists (Naturwissenschaften paper) Selected by JL Alcantara
Flights of Fancy in Avian Evolution American Scientist Selected by JL Alcantara Why do birds fly in a V? Endangered ibis reveals its amazing secret (VIDEO) Los Angeles Times (Nature letter) Selected by J Broggi
Sharp-toothed tigerfish jumps to eat a bird (VIDEO) (J Fish Biol paper) Nature News Selected by J Broggi
On the evolution of bird fingers. PHYS.ORG (J Exp Zool paper) Selected by R Jovani
Albatross colony shows benefits of same-sex pairing ABC Science (J Proceedings of the Royal Society B paper) Selected by JL Alcantara Swifts stay airborne for six months at a time New scientist(Nature communications paper) Selected by J Broggi
100 years ago bird lovers were encouraged to use the field glasses rather than the gun The Guardian Selected by R Jovani
Trees send distress signals that birds use to find insects Sinc(Ecol Lett paper) Selected by R Jovani
I’m singing in the rainforest Max-Planck-Gesellschaft (journal of interdisciplinary music studies paper) Selected by JL Alcantara
Fossil Poo Reveals Where Ancient Giant Bird Ate Discovery News (PNAS paper) Selected by JL Alcantara
Colonizing songbirds lost sense of syntax e! Science News (Current Biology paper) Selected by JL Alcantara
Songbirds may have 'borrowed' DNA to fuel migration Phys.org (Evolution paper) Selected by JL Alcantara
Collision Course ScienceNews (ScienceNews paper) Selected by JL Alcantara
Social learning of migratory performance PhysOrg (Science paper) Selected by R Jovani
Evolution of parasitic egg colouration: parasites also select. Not Exactly Rocket Science blog(Biol Lett paper) Selected by R Jovani
European birds adjust their flight initiation distance to road speed limits BBC News(Biol Lett paper) Selected by R Jovani
The secret of male beauty (in turkeys) UCL News (PLOS Genetics paper) Selected by JL Alcantara
Bird hunters 'emptying Afghan skies' BBC News Asia Selected by JL Alcantara
Secrets of the world’s toughest little bird Griffith U. News (Nature Communications paper) Selected by JL Alcantara Outdoor Cats: Single Greatest Source of Human-Caused Mortality for Birds and Mammals American Bird Conservancy (Nature communications paper) Selected by J Broggi
Hiding in plain sight: New species of bird discovered in capital city e! Science News (Forktail paper) Selected by JL Alcantara
Foraging space partitioning without territoriality in a seabird ScienceDaily (Science paper) Selected by R Jovani
Bird extinction leads to rapid evolution of seed size The Red Notebook (Science paper) Selected by R Jovani
Bird song changes in translocated birds ScienceDaily (J Appl Ecol paper) Selected by R Jovani
Why penguins lost their wings ABC Science (PNAS paper) Selected by JL Alcantara
Simulated patternity uncertainty: Males care about intruders but feed nestlings regardless of patternity uncertainty ScienceDaily (PLoS ONE paper) Selected by R Jovani
Seabird Bones Reveal Changes in Open-Ocean Food Chain Science Daily(PNAS paper) Selected by F Mateos-Gonzalez
New fossil brings new light on the evolution of hummingbirds and swifts Science NOW(Proc R Soc B paper) Selected by R Jovani
Testosterone vs. audience on the regulation of bird fights and social status ScienceDaily (Hormones and Behavior paper) Selected by R Jovani
Lead bullet fragments poison rare US condors BBC News Selected by JL Alcantara
Avoiding cuckoo parasitism by breeding indoors Live Science(Beh Ecol Sociobiol paper) Selected by R Jovani
Why I study duck genitalia... or... why basic science matters Slate Selected by R Jovani
A study about play in cranes BBC Nature(Ibis paper) Selected by R Jovani
Pretty great tits make better mothers Discover (Frontiers in Zoology paper) Selected by JL Alcantara
Humans wiped out Pacific island birds ABC Science (PNAS paper) Selected by JL Alcantara
The Rise and Fall of Four-Winged Birds Not Exactly Rocket Science (Science paper) Selected by R Jovani
Sex role reversal: Female shorebirds rule the roost BBC News (Nature Communications paper) Selected by JL Alcantara
Birds communicate their size through song ScienceDaily(PLoS ONE paper) Selected by R Jovani
How Birds of Different Feathers Flock Together ScienceDaily (Animal Behaviour paper) Selected by JL Alcantara
The Owl Comes Into Its Own The New York Times-Science Selected by JL Alcantara
On the evolution of UV vision in birds ScienceDaily(BMC Evol Biol paper) Selected by R Jovani
A great tit predating upon a common redpoll (video; Finnish) Ilta Sanomat Selected by R Jovani
Killing Barred Owls To Save the Spotted Owl CNN Selected by JL Alcantara
New dinosaur fossil challenges bird evolution theory e! Science News (Nature paper) Selected by JL Alcantara
Fractal geometry of a plumage pattern changes with physical condition in partridges ScienceNow(Proc R Soc B paper) Selected by I Galván
As Andean condors decline, tradition draws critics Reuters Selected by JL Alcantara





see Older News on the left-hand column

Thursday, 12 September 2013

The mysterious case of the honey buzzard ritual

I like reading scientific papers answering interesting questions. But what I really love are unanswered questions. This is why I have found so exciting the paper I want to highlight you today.

This is about a mysterious behaviour of a honey buzzard (Pernis apivorus) reported from central Spain by Carlos Camacho, Marta Guntiñas and Jaime Potti, and just published in Raptor Research journal. This is how they explain the behaviour:

 "For 13 consecutive days (4-16 July 2012), we monitored behavioral displays by an adult Honey Buzzard of undetermined sex inhabiting an old oak (Quercus pyrenaica) forest in Central Spain (41º 04’ N; 3º 27’ E). We daily recorded the bird's behavior between 8:00 and 14:00 h for 2-hour sessions by alternating the time and additionally conducted four evening sessions from 18:00 to 20:00 h every 2-3 days in order to collect data throughout the entire daylight period. [...]

The ritual started shortly after dawn. The Honey Buzzard cut off similarly shaped fresh, leafed twigs ranging from 12 to 25 cm in length [...] from a single maple tree (Acer monspessulanum), whereas oak twigs were rarely selected (n = 3) despite their much higher availability. Twigs were arranged parallel to one another at a set distance of 1-1.5 m along a bare sandy road (Fig. 1a). Immediately afterwards, the Honey Buzzard stretched full-length on the ground (Fig. 1b) and remained motionless next to the newly placed twig for a long time (20-40 min), thus becoming almost undetectable to observers. Fresh plant materials were added at regular time intervals of ca. 35 min (0.5-1 h), although adding or replacing rates could reduce up to 2-3 twigs/hour during the hot midday period. The bird continued bringing new twigs for three days until the road held more than 40 items. Hereafter, old withered twigs were replaced with recently picked ones and the initial distance between adjacent twigs was gradually reduced as new fresh materials were added by the bird.

The Honey Buzzard's behavior was not incidental but repeated during the entire observation period. Similar-sized green materials were used throughout and the distance and position of the twig’s placement showed apparent consistency. [...] The high time investment required to perform such display contrasts with the inactive routine shown by the bird, as it spent a long time just laying on the ground close to the greenery work."

The authors give some tentative explanations, while recognizing that any of them can even remotely grasp the meaning of this behaviour "ritual" (it was so mysterious that they gave it the name of ritual! :). Luckily, I work next door to the senior author of this study, and I was fortunate to listen their story when he came back from the field. I love when researchers tell me about any unexplainable phenomenon; in their faces there is always a mix of excitement, frustration and hope for finding the solution; maybe someday, somewhere they will imagine the solution (maybe some morning while singing in the shower). I love these stories demanding an end; these are major motors of science.

Interestingly, if these stories are mysterious, it means that we may have not all the elements to understand them. It may be simply that we need further field observation (maybe more field observation would show, for instance, that this raptor was "simply" waiting for a prey). Or it may (excitingly) mean that there is some fundamental element that we not know from this species (or from birds in general!).

Thus, hopefully, understanding this "anecdotic" behaviour will unfold a new mystery. In this case of the honey buzzard ritual, studying it further may (why not) uncover a sophisticated sense (e.g. of vision, or smell), or it could be related with parasite control?, or it may be a "mere" manifestation of play (yes, this sounds weird...), or it may be exploiting some sense of insects, diverting the trajectory of bees and wasps when returning to their colonies (and follow them to feed on their larvae)?...or it may reveal an unexpected extraordinary intelligence... or a rich mathematical or aesthetic mind... or... or...who knows. This is why science is so exciting.

If you have any idea to explain this honey buzzard behaviour, or if you have a similar story (about a mysterious bird behaviour) please leave a comment below. 

Pictures by Octavio Jiménez

 
Ir Arriba