A jackdaw couple. Credit: Guillam E. McCIvor
New research has shown that male jackdaws leave their mate to comfort them after a traumatizing experience.
Jackdaws are usually married for life. Females keep the nest with their eggs, while males hunt food.
Sometimes, rival males will visit the nest to attack the single female in an attempt to mate.
Researchers at the University of Exeter found that males were more likely to console their partners after such incidents, by being close and engaging in social behavior like petting their partner's feathers.
Males were more concerned about their safety. They brought food to the nest but visited less often and spent less with the female.
"Humans console their loved ones in distress. But it's not clear whether animals do this in nature," stated Beki Hooper of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation at Exeter's Penryn Campus.
"Previous studies have shown consolation-like behavior in certain animals. However, there are often other explanations that could be motivating this behavior.
"We created this study to rule other explanations so that we could discover if jackdaws would console one another, given their complex social lives and long-lasting partnerships.
"We discovered that male jackdaws were able to detect distress in their partners, but they did not console them."
"The decrease in time that males spend in the nest following an attack could be a sign of self-preservation. They may respond to distress in their partner and avoid the nest, which is a place of potential danger.
Nest-box footage showing a Jackdaw couple allopreening (one bird preening the other). Credit: Cornish Jackdaw Project
"Further research is required to determine why exactly males responded the way they did."
Researchers used experimental nest "visits," which were performed by males competing for the female. They also recorded the sounds of approaching males at the nest and recordings of males attacking nesting womens in the wild.
After such experiences, females become agitated and their returning mates can clearly see this in their behavior. They have a tendency to change their "affiliative" behavior and visit the nest less often.
Dr. Alex Thornton stated that Jackdaw pairs rely on each other for survival, reproduction and so on. Therefore, based on current theory, we would expect to find consolation following a trauma.
"The absence consolation is striking and it challenges common notions about where consolation should evolve.
"It raises concerns about the possibility that current theories may be influenced in some way by anthropomorphic (human characteristics are attributed to animals) expectations of social relations.
"To fully understand this social behavior among animals, it is important to consider the risks and trade-offs that they face in the wild."
Jackdaws are a highly intelligent and social corvid species with an identical number of neurons to nonhuman primates.
They have impressive social intelligence. This includes individual human recognition and the ability socially to learn from others about dangerous people.
The paper was published in Royal Society Open Science and is entitled "Wild Jackdaws react to their partner’s distress, but they don’t respond with consolation."
Learn more Jackdaws from each other about "dangerous" humans
Additional information: Wild Jackdaws respond with concern to their partner's distress but not with consolation. Royal Society Open Science Journal Information: Royal Society Open Science Wild Jackdaws respond with concern to their partner’s distress but not with consolation.