Mated pairs of great tits choose companionship over food during a novel experiment that did not allow couples to forage at the same place, according to the Department of Zoology team of researchers from the Oxford University.
Birds could access feeding stations that depended on radio frequency identification tags that referred to different feeding stations. Mated pairs were disallowed from accessing the same feeder as one another. In other words, a female in a pair could access a feeder, but the mail could not, or vice versa. Regardless, the birds stuck together, with those birds denied access to food still sticking close to their mates.
The findings of the study were published in the journal Current Biology.
Results reveal that the significance of social relationships between wild birds even when those relationships could detrimentally impact their ability to secure food.
Lead author of the study, Josh Firth, said: “The choice to stay close to their partner over accessing food demonstrates how an individual bird’s decisions in the short term, which might appear sub-optimal, can actually be shaped around gaining the long-term benefits of maintaining their key relationships. For instance, great tits require a partner to be able to reproduce and raise their chicks. Therefore, even in wild animals, an individual’s behaviour can be governed by aiming to accommodate the needs of those they are socially attached to.”
The study was done at the Oxford University’s Wytham Woods site to the west of Oxford, and it included automated feeding stations that were able to decide which particular birds could access food and which of them could not.
Researchers at the Oxford University found that wild birds would choose staying close to their partner during winter months over food.
Researchers discovered that the birds made random choices so that they have no access to feeding bowls because their mate spent a lot of time at feeders. They had no additional access to feeding bowls when compared to birds that could feed together.
This also implied that these birds stay close to one another for long periods with their partners’ flock-mates as well. Eventually these bird pairs could have even learned to cooperate to permit one another to get food even from feeding stations that were located beyond their local limits.
Josh Firth said, “Because these birds choose to stay with their partners, they also end up associating with their partners’ flock-mates, even if they wouldn’t usually associate with these individuals. This shows how the company an individual bird keeps may depend on their partner’s preferences as well as their own.”