the Conversation I mentioned that Current Biology About the research published by Australian researchers in its columns about the blue fairy bird (Malurus cyaneus) about his behaviour. This little songbird maintains multi-level social relationships and, as research has revealed, is happy to help its friends–but not strangers.
Multi-level social relations can be imagined as nesting dolls: the family is the innermost, the clan formed by related families is located on the outside, and the tribe consists of clans. In addition to humans, this is the case for many animals, but not so long ago it became clear that birds are also represented in these communities. However, it is not entirely clear what exactly the advantages of this type of social structure are, as according to a theory based on human examples, individuals can simultaneously maintain multi-level cooperation, defining their own importance.
Australian researchers tested this theory with the help of groups of tiny wings. The species lives in family communities of 2-6 individuals, they nest close to each other and maintain a very close relationship with each other. Apart from the reproductive period, these small family groups also “interact” with groups (clans) from neighboring regions and maintain close relationships, and the clans form large but more flexible communities. As a result, individual birds will have close and very close relationships, as well as distant acquaintances. At the start of the survey, the researchers placed different colored rings on the birds’ legs depending on which community they were part of.
The imaginary bird will often call for help from its mates when in trouble, as a result of calls for help, others make an alarming sound near the predator, or distract it with a so-called mouse-running method. During the latter, the imaginary bird lands on the ground near the predator and runs up and down, just as a mouse would (see video below). It is easy to understand that this method is a very dangerous business!
During the ringing, the researchers recorded the calls for help made by the young birds, then played them back in the birds’ habitat, complete with the placement of a stuffed predator, examining which of their specific species rushed to the aid of that individual based on the call for help. They tested this by playing the voice of a representative of the small family, clan, or larger group relationship system, as well as a complete stranger.
The fairy birds did not pay any attention to the stranger, they mostly rushed to the aid of the close friend. The multi-level social structure has been shaped countless times throughout evolution, and according to the researchers, the idea that these relationship systems function most efficiently is confirmed by prioritizing cooperation. Although this social behavior of fairy birds evolved independently of humans, it is very similar to how we act within our own systems of relationships.
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