Australian magpies remove tracking devices, outsmart researchers-Xinhua

Australian magpies remove tracking devices, outsmart researchers

Source: Xinhua| 2022-02-22 12:15:13|Editor: huaxia

SYDNEY, Feb. 22 (Xinhua) -- While conducting research on the Australian magpie, a team of researchers made an unexpected discovery of cooperative behaviour as the intelligent birds helped one another remove their tracking devices.

The new findings were published in a paper in Australian Field Ornithology journal and released to the public on Tuesday.

Contributing author and animal ecology professor at the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC), Dominique Potvin told Xinhua on Tuesday that this was one of the first times altruistic, social problem-solving behaviour had been observed in birds.

"It was just interesting because none of us had ever heard of any animals cooperating to remove trackers... we found out that this is like the first time that this has actually happened," said Potvin.

Magpies live in social groups of up to a dozen birds, which breed and raise their young cooperatively. The territorial birds are known to swoop unsuspecting passers-by and for their loud, aggressive call.

Originally the team had planned to conduct experiments on the social relationships among groups of the Australian magpie. The tracking devices were fixed on to the birds with a light-weight harness designed to cause minimal impact.

Within an hour all the birds had worked together to remove their harnesses.

"At first, we were devastated. Because not only did it mean that the birds are behaving differently, trying to get the trackers off, but that the trackers were probably influencing their behaviours."

Interestingly, even the magpies that were not equipped with the tracking advice were helping those that were. Potvin said such "rescue behaviour" raised the question of the species potential for altruism -- helping others at their own expense.

"It's a combination of a really sophisticated social behaviour, as well as a problem-solving behaviour... not only are they problem solving as a team, but the magpie helping isn't actually getting any reward."

Potvin also highlighted the importance of understanding the behaviour of wildlife when it comes to conservation efforts, as behavioural changes are animals' most immediate response to stressors such as habitat destruction and climate changes.

"Understanding how animals react to particular changes in their environment can help us understand whether they will be able to cope long term, whether they'll be able to stick around, or whether we really need to help them or change our practices."