Depending on their “personality,” Australian kingfishertails defend their nest and territory with varying degrees of aggressiveness. This is shown by two studies by Australian and Austrian researchers. (archive image)
The scientists suspect that the various personality traits could be important for the survival of the birds. The study was published in the journals PeerJ and Animal Behaviour.
The Magnificent Fairy Tail (Malurus cyaneus) is a songbird species found in Australia and Tasmania. During the breeding season, the males of the birds, which can be up to 20 centimeters in size, are characterized by a colourful, blue-dominated plumage. The animals live in small groups, which also breed together and together help to feed and defend the offspring.
For their study, the researchers led by Diane Colombelli-Négrel from Flinders University and Sonia Kleindorfer from the Department of Behavioral and Cognitive Biology at the University of Vienna and the Konrad Lorenz Research Center in Grünau im Almtal (Upper Austria) examined the behavior of the animals both in freedom in the Australian bushland as well as during short-term imprisonment.
Such studies, which link personality differences measured in captivity with ecologically relevant social behavior in the wild, have so far been sparse, the scientists write in their work.
The captured birds were assessed for personality traits such as boldness, spirit of discovery, and aggressiveness. On the one hand, an assessment was made of how much they resisted being grabbed by the researchers while they were being measured. On the other hand, they were observed behaving in a new environment (a cage) and confronted with a mirror.
In the field, the birds were confronted with the call of a harmless fellow songbird (garden fantail) as well as that of a potential predator, the sooty starling (Strepera versicolor), to assess how well they defended their territory or their nest.
In particular, birds that behaved very aggressively towards their reflection in the cage in the cage also reacted more strongly to the predator’s call in the wild. Conversely, Magnificent Seasontails, which largely ignored the mirror in the cage, also paid less attention to the potential threat of a sooty starling.
Also, individuals who explored a new environment—in the study, the cage—very actively and closely responded more aggressively to predator calls than those who showed little interest in the new environment.
For the researchers, their research results support “a growing number of studies that show the importance of animal personalities for survival-relevant reaction strategies and social behavior”. They emphasize that “personality traits in animals may have an adaptive utility for survival.”
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.anbehav.2022.08.015; Study in PeerJ: https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.14011