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Social Bird Learns Kin Recognition

April 28, 2005

Long-tailed tit (Aegithalos caudatus) chicks learn specific calls from the adults that rear them in the nest; they use this information to discriminate between kin and non-kin, according to a study in the April 28, 2005 Nature.

Although many bird species use vocalization cues in recognition systems, Stuart Sharp and colleagues present the first experimental study documenting the development of such recognition cues in a cooperative bird species.

In cooperative breeding, young adults put off the start of their own breeding to assist in the rearing of another, related pair’s chicks. This behaviour may be favoured because it promotes the reproductive success of a relative genetically similar to the helper, a mechanism called ‘kin selection’ by evolutionary biologists. The authors note that learning vocalization cues by direct association is expected among cooperatively breeding birds.

Abstract © 2005 Nature

“Learned kin recognition cues in a social bird,” Stuart P. Sharp, Andrew McGowan, Matthew J. Wood, Ben J. Hatchwell, Nature, April 28, 2005

Stuart Sharp, University of Sheffield, UK