Life Lines by Dr. Dolittle

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Scientists witness magpies showing signs of altruism

Photo of Australian magpie by JJ Harrison ( via Wikimedia Commons

What better way to study an animal’s movements, schedules, and behaviors than to attach a tiny tracking device that can record where they go? At least that was the intention when scientists attached tiny tracking devices to several Australian magpies. They had planned to train the birds to visit a special feeding station that was designed to charge the tracker, download data, or release it, all using a magnet.

Instead, scientists were awestruck when the birds were observed helping each other remove the tracking devices. This type of altruistic behavior is rarely seen in birds. Australian magpies are a highly cooperative species that shares in defending territories as well as raising young. They also apparently excel at working together to solve a problem. In fact, most of the birds had removed the trackers within only hours.

I suppose the scientists did succeed in studying a very interesting behavior in these birds, although they will need to find a new way to track their movements.


Australian Field Ornithology

Categories: Intelligence and Neuroscience

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