Anyone who’s ever been swooped at by a magpie will be horrified to learn that the birds are working together.
A research team in Australia studying a new kind of tracking device for birds was surprised to find that magpies were cooperating to give them the slip.
“When we attached tiny, backpack-like tracking devices to five Australian magpies for a pilot study, we didn’t expect to discover an entirely new social behaviour rarely seen in birds,” wrote Dominique Potvin, an animal ecologist at the University of the Sunshine Coast, in an article for The Conversation.
“Our goal was to learn more about the movement and social dynamics of these highly intelligent birds, and to test these new, durable and reusable devices. Instead, the birds outsmarted us.”
Magpies are a staple in Australian bush and backyards. The iconic birds are known for their warbling calls and territorial but playful nature. Most Aussies ― especially cyclists and runners ― will likely have had some kind of experience with a swooping magpie in their lifetime, as many harrowing but hilarious viral videos have shown.
According to Potvin’s research paper, after scientists attached tracking devices to five birds, they began to display what seemed to be altruistic behavior: They would cooperate to help each other remove the trackers. One bird would snap another bird’s harness at the only weak point.
They appeared to be helping one another without getting any immediate, tangible reward, Potvin noted, demonstrating both cooperation and problem solving.
So it’s back to the drawing board for the team, which needs to find a more effective way of collecting data about the birds.
Read more at The Conversation.