60-Second Science

These Birds Make Peace in Bad Weather

Yuhina birds fight over nest space, but in bad weather they leave each other alone much more. Amy Kraft reports

After a hurricane or earthquake, people often band together and cooperate to deal with the recovery. And we’re not the only species that becomes more cooperative in tough times. 

Female Yuhina birds in Taiwan usually fight over space in the community nest when they’re trying to lay eggs. But in bad weather the birds tend to leave each other alone.

The finding is in the journal Nature Communications. [Sheng-Feng Shen et al., "Unfavourable environment limits social conflict in Yuhina brunneiceps"]

Researchers monitored groups of yuhinas for several years, in fair and foul weather. When the scientists combined their data with a game-theory model, they found that periods of fighting between female yuhinas were 50-percent shorter when the weather was bad—which increased the overall success of the breeding group.

During times of heavy rain, food becomes scarce. And getting wet means that the birds have to expend more energy to stay warm. So the birds apparently institute a truce, which cuts down on energy wasted fighting, and increases everyone's chance of survival. In other words, in bad weather birds of a feather stick together.

—Amy Kraft

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]  

[Scientific American is part of the Nature Publishing Group.]


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