Temptation of mate can cause mama bird to abandon her chicks

Saturday, February 5, 2011

WASHINGTON - Research from the University of Cambridge has shown that a mother bird can take time away from parenting when more tempting opportunities such as finding a mate sprout up.

Hihi birds (Notiomystis cincta) from the forests of Tiritiri Matangi Island in New Zealand ignore the intensity of their nestlings’ begging displays when they have the chance to reproduce multiple times in a season, says the new study.

To test this, behavioural ecologist Rose Thorogood studied a population of Hihi birds.

“The sensitivity of parents to offspring’s signals in relation to their future reproductive attempts hasn’t really ever been explored before,” Live Science quoted Thorogood as saying.

She found that birds that laid only one clutch within a season were more responsive to chicks, while those who laid a second clutch were not sensitive to the intensity of nestlings’ begging displays, giving equal attention to all chicks.

“Parents aren’t just slaves to the offspring; they have some control over the situation. If the parents know they’ve got a good chance of breeding again in the future, they can’t be completely manipulated by the offspring,” Thorogood said.

The results may explain why individual parents of different species vary so much in their responses to begging, Thorogood added.

John Ewen, a co-author and behavioral ecologist from the Zoological Society of London, said “Our results may help explain some of the apparently conflicting results of previous studies by offering a reason for variable sensitivity of parent birds to the demands of their young.”

The study is published Jan. 25 in the journal the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. (ANI)

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