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Crows Tolerate Their Lazy Buddies, But Why?

June 3, 2010

As I read more and more about crows and birds in general, they become more and more fascinating to me. In my previous post about crows, I talked about their smartness and compassionate behavior. In today’s post I am going to refer to new findings which look into issue of helping and tolerant behavior of crows. In a new study which will be published today in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, researchers studied carrion crows in order to understand the helping effort by various group members. In a group of Carrion crows, there are some very dominant members who do most of the breeding, then there are helpers who help in caring of the new-borns while there are also some freeloaders who don’t even bother to visit the nest. The question they wanted to answer as to why these dominant hard working crows tolerate those freeloaders. One of the reasons can be that by tolerating the lazy ones, they can have strong group size and thus can save themselves from predators.

But in this study scientists found out that lazy crows do more than give the number strength to the group. These lazy crows in fact pitch in when the need arises such as when the dominant member becomes less active. Loitering crows may help the whole group by ensuring that provisions for offspring remain constant during tough times: the increased effort of non-breeders compensated fully for the diminished offerings of the disabled crows. What’s not clear is whether the slackers offer the help because they hear chicks begging or because dominant birds force them to contribute. Dawdling animals may be more likely to chip in voluntarily if they are strongly related to other members of the group, because they may derive indirect gains from the group’s overall reproductive success. [Nature]

Source: Baglione, V. et al. Proc. R. Soc. B doi:10.1098/rspb.2010.0745

Photo Credit: Flickr user serviphoto70

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