Winter associations predict social and extra-pair mating patterns in blue tits. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and the MPI for Animal Behaviour show in their new study that blue tits that often foraged together during winter were more likely to end up as breeding pairs or as extra-pair partners, whereby bonds between future breeding partners seem to establish earlier in winter than those between future extra-pair partners.

Social networks reveal dating in blue tits

Winter associations predict social and extra-pair mating patterns in blue tits. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and the MPI for Animal Behaviour show in their new study that blue tits that often foraged together during winter were more likely to end up as breeding pairs or as extra-pair partners, whereby bonds between future breeding partners seem to establish earlier in winter than those between future extra-pair partners.

Male pectoral sandpipers typically visit several potential breeding sites during the short arctic summer. The decision about where to go next seems to be made opportunistically: they often leave in the direction the wind takes them. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen tracked the flight path of 80 males with the help of small satellite transmitters and found that breeding areas in the Russian Arctic are more likely to be visited under tailwind conditions. In an environment where the summer is short and mating opportunities are unpredictable, individuals may save time and energy by using wind support.

Blowing in the wind: A polygynous shorebird decides where to breed based on the prevailing wind conditions

Male pectoral sandpipers typically visit several potential breeding sites during the short arctic summer. The decision about where to go next seems to be made opportunistically: they often leave in the direction the wind takes them. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen tracked the flight path of 80 males with the help of small satellite transmitters and found that breeding areas in the Russian Arctic are more likely to be visited under tailwind conditions. In an environment where the summer is short and mating opportunities are unpredictable, individuals may save time and energy by using wind support.

In birds, timing of arrival in a breeding area influences who ends up breeding and who does not. This aspect of behaviour, well-known in migratory birds, has now been studied for the first time in a non-migratory species, the blue tit. Carol Gilsenan, Mihai Valcu and Bart Kempenaers found that arrival time in the breeding area was an individual-specific and fitness-relevant trait for this resident bird species, as early-arriving individuals were more likely to breed in that year. The study suggests that it might be worthwhile to consider migration on different scales, not only as movements over thousands of kilometres to wintering grounds, but also more generally as movements between breeding and non-breeding sites.

First come, first bred

In birds, timing of arrival in a breeding area influences who ends up breeding and who does not. This aspect of behaviour, well-known in migratory birds, has now been studied for the first time in a non-migratory species, the blue tit. Carol Gilsenan, Mihai Valcu and Bart Kempenaers found that arrival time in the breeding area was an individual-specific and fitness-relevant trait for this resident bird species, as early-arriving individuals were more likely to breed in that year. The study suggests that it might be worthwhile to consider migration on different scales, not only as movements over thousands of kilometres to wintering grounds, but also more generally as movements between breeding and non-breeding sites.

Parrots are considered extraordinarily clever animals. Alex, the famous Harvard-based African grey parrot, communicated with a vocabulary of more than 500 human words, could answer questions and classify objects spontaneously. Scientists from the Max-Planck-Institute for Ornithology based at the research station outpost for parrot comparative cognition in the Loro Parque in Tenerife, Spain, have shown that parrots exhibit a high level of social intelligence and cooperativeness. They readily help others, even when there is no immediate opportunity for reciprocation. Moreover, they reciprocate received favours and do not appear jealous, if conspecifics obtain a better reward than themselves. This further supports that they have evolved a level of intelligence comparable to that of great apes, crows and dolphins.

Prosocial and tolerant parrots help others to obtain food

Parrots are considered extraordinarily clever animals. Alex, the famous Harvard-based African grey parrot, communicated with a vocabulary of more than 500 human words, could answer questions and classify objects spontaneously. Scientists from the Max-Planck-Institute for Ornithology based at the research station outpost for parrot comparative cognition in the Loro Parque in Tenerife, Spain, have shown that parrots exhibit a high level of social intelligence and cooperativeness. They readily help others, even when there is no immediate opportunity for reciprocation. Moreover, they reciprocate received favours and do not appear jealous, if conspecifics obtain a better reward than themselves. This further supports that they have evolved a level of intelligence comparable to that of great apes, crows and dolphins.

Zebra finches can take turns when exchanging short calls with one another, much like humans do during conversations. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology have now shed light on the underlying neural dynamics in a songbird brain area called HVC, or the so called “song control centre”. The researchers identified neurons involved in initiating a call as well as another class of neurons that inhibits neighboring cells shortly before a bird calls. The importance of these cells for vocal turn-taking was further supported by the observation that specific disruptions to the signaling of either type of neuron resulted in distinct changes in call timing.

How a Bird Brain Times Tweets: Inhibitory neurons in the zebra finch brain control coordinated vocal interactions

Zebra finches can take turns when exchanging short calls with one another, much like humans do during conversations. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology have now shed light on the underlying neural dynamics in a songbird brain area called HVC, or the so called “song control centre”. The researchers identified neurons involved in initiating a call as well as another class of neurons that inhibits neighboring cells shortly before a bird calls. The importance of these cells for vocal turn-taking was further supported by the observation that specific disruptions to the signaling of either type of neuron resulted in distinct changes in call timing.

Everybody knows about the difficulty of focusing on a conversation during a loud party. How can active sensing animals like bats move in large groups and still be able to detect each other despite jamming? Thejasvi Beleyur and Holger Goerlitz show in their new modelling study in PNAS that a focal bat in the center of a group can still detect its closest neighbours in groups with 100 bats. Neighbor detection is improved for longer call intervals, shorter call durations, denser groups and more variable flight and sonar beam directions. Although the bats only detect their closest and frontal neighbours, this gives them sufficient information to prevent collisions, and to follow each other when emerging in dense swarms.

Cocktail-Party nightmare: How are bats able to detect the echoes of their own calls within a large group?

Everybody knows about the difficulty of focusing on a conversation during a loud party. How can active sensing animals like bats move in large groups and still be able to detect each other despite jamming? Thejasvi Beleyur and Holger Goerlitz show in their new modelling study in PNAS that a focal bat in the center of a group can still detect its closest neighbours in groups with 100 bats. Neighbor detection is improved for longer call intervals, shorter call durations, denser groups and more variable flight and sonar beam directions. Although the bats only detect their closest and frontal neighbours, this gives them sufficient information to prevent collisions, and to follow each other when emerging in dense swarms.

The timing of spring migration is vital for birds. Returning too late comes at a cost. In 1981, Ebo Gwinner, former director of the MPI for Ornithology demonstrated how an internal clock is responsible for the correct timing of flycatchers’ migration. Replicating this experiment more than twenty years later, Barbara Helm, student of Ebo and now Professor at the University of Groningen and guest researcher in Seewiesen has shown there is an evolutionary response of this clock to climate change, as migratory restlessness in spring is advanced by more than nine days.Open link to the study with click on the image  Image with kind permission from Ralph Martin, Germany; www.visual-nature.de

Climate change is shifting the biological clock in migratory birds

The timing of spring migration is vital for birds. Returning too late comes at a cost. In 1981, Ebo Gwinner, former director of the MPI for Ornithology demonstrated how an internal clock is responsible for the correct timing of flycatchers’ migration. Replicating this experiment more than twenty years later, Barbara Helm, student of Ebo and now Professor at the University of Groningen and guest researcher in Seewiesen has shown there is an evolutionary response of this clock to climate change, as migratory restlessness in spring is advanced by more than nine days.

Open link to the study with click on the image
Image with kind permission from Ralph Martin, Germany; www.visual-nature.de

Noise pollution is one of the leading environmental health risks in humans. In zebra finches, noise affects their health and the growth of their offspring: Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen found that traffic noise suppresses normal glucocorticoid profiles in the blood, probably to prevent negative effects of chronically elevated levels on the organism. In addition, the young chicks of noise-exposed parents were smaller than chicks from quiet nests.

Traffic noise affects normal stress reactions in zebra finches and delays offspring growth

Noise pollution is one of the leading environmental health risks in humans. In zebra finches, noise affects their health and the growth of their offspring: Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen found that traffic noise suppresses normal glucocorticoid profiles in the blood, probably to prevent negative effects of chronically elevated levels on the organism. In addition, the young chicks of noise-exposed parents were smaller than chicks from quiet nests.

When a male or female white-browed sparrow-weaver begins its song, its partner joins in at a certain time. They duet with each other by singing in turn and precisely in tune. A team led by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen found that the nerve cell activity in the brain of the singing bird changes and synchronizes with its partner when the partner begins to sing. The brains of both animals then essentially function as one, which leads to the perfect duet.

The brains of birds synchronize when they sing duets

When a male or female white-browed sparrow-weaver begins its song, its partner joins in at a certain time. They duet with each other by singing in turn and precisely in tune. A team led by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen found that the nerve cell activity in the brain of the singing bird changes and synchronizes with its partner when the partner begins to sing. The brains of both animals then essentially function as one, which leads to the perfect duet.

The focus of the new Max Planck Institute of Animal Behaviour in Radolfzell and Konstanz will be the investigation of Collective Behaviour. Besides of the existing departments of Martin Wikelski and Iain Couzin, another research department will be established. Margaret Crofoot from the University of California in Davis will investigate the formation of complex societies using the group behaviour of monkeys as an example. She is particularly interested in how the collective behaviour of a group emerges from the contacts and relationships between individuals.(Image: Axel Griesch)

The location of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology at the Lake of Konstanz is now an independent institute

The focus of the new Max Planck Institute of Animal Behaviour in Radolfzell and Konstanz will be the investigation of Collective Behaviour. Besides of the existing departments of Martin Wikelski and Iain Couzin, another research department will be established. Margaret Crofoot from the University of California in Davis will investigate the formation of complex societies using the group behaviour of monkeys as an example. She is particularly interested in how the collective behaviour of a group emerges from the contacts and relationships between individuals.
(Image: Axel Griesch)


Press releases

Social networks reveal dating in blue tits

February 19, 2020

Winter associations predict social and extra-pair mating patterns in blue tits. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and the MPI for Animal Behaviour show in their new study that blue tits that often foraged together during winter ...

Blowing in the wind

February 12, 2020

Male pectoral sandpipers typically visit several potential breeding sites during the short arctic summer. The decision about where to go next seems to be made opportunistically: they often leave in the direction the wind takes them. Researchers of ...

First come, first bred

January 12, 2020

In birds, timing of arrival in a breeding area influences who ends up breeding and who does not. This aspect of behaviour, well-known in migratory birds, has now been studied for the first time in a non-migratory species, the blue tit. Researchers at ...

How a Bird Brain Times Tweets

January 10, 2020

Zebra finches can take turns when exchanging short calls with one another, much like humans do during conversations. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology have now shed light on the underlying neural dynamics in a songbird brain ...

Prosocial and tolerant parrots help others to obtain food

January 09, 2020

Parrots are considered extraordinarily clever animals. Alex, the famous Harvard-based African grey parrot, communicated with a vocabulary of more than 500 human words, could answer questions and classify objects spontaneously. Scientists from the ...

Traffic noise affects normal stress reactions in zebra finches and delays offspring growth

October 14, 2019

Noise pollution is one of the leading environmental health risks in humans. In zebra finches, noise affects their health and the growth of their offspring: Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen found that traffic noise ...

Multimedia


Grey parrots help others to obtain food

Video

African grey parrots exhibit a high level of social intelligence and cooperativeness. They readily help others, even when there is no immediate opportunity for reciprocation. Moreover, they reciprocate received favours and do not appear jealous, if conspecifics obtain a better reward than themselves. This further supports that they have evolved a level of intelligence comparable to that of great apes, crows and dolphins.

Youtuber "MrWissen2Go" visits Seewiesen (in German)

Video

Youtuber "MrWissenToGo" Mirko Drotschmann visited Seewiesen to talk with Manfred Gahr about why birds sing - or not.

Evolution: Extra-pair paternity in blue tits (in German)

Video

The choice of the perfect partner is also important for blue tits. A good teamwork is required, as up to 10 hungry chicks have to be fed simultaneously. But do they have to live together in a faithful partnership for that? And is this really the best strategy for reproductive success?

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