Green Woodhoopoe Displays Remarkable Team Spirit

September 5, 2008 by  
Filed under Features

Ongoing research into bird behavior continues to reveal fascinating facts about the multitude of feathered creatures that share our planet. Results from recent research indicates that when a rival flock has defeated them in a raucous show of superiority, Green Woodhoopoes display supportive behavior to their fellow flock-mates in a manner that researchers have likened to football fans commiserating with one another when the team they are supporting loses.

These attractive metallic dark green and purple South African birds live in groups of around twelve members and are known to challenge rival groups by means of raucous vocal displays, much like opposing football team supporters try to outdo one another in chanting and cheering for their team during a match. At the height of a conflict, one bird may pluck a flower or piece of lichen and this is passed from one bird to the other, in a manner similar to waving a flag. These intense displays can continue for extended periods, with subordinates contributing more than dominants, until one group gives up and retreats.

Unlike football fans though, following their defeat the group of Green Woodhoopoes don’t go off to the nearest pub to drown their sorrows, but rather engage in preening one another. Dominant birds focus on preening their subordinates in what is thought to be an encouragement to stand their ground in future conflicts. The longer and harder the battle, the more intense the preening is. In a report in “Proceedings of the Royal Society, Series B”, Dr. Andy Radford, shows that Green Woodhoopoes (Phoeniculus purpureus) have the highest number of conflicts with their neighbors, and they also have the highest preening rates. This finding supports a long-held theory that the amount of conflict which a group is involved in, directly influences the level of supportive behavior displayed by its members. Radford sees this as an indication that preening may reduce stress, while at the same time enhancing unity among group members. This validation of a group member’s worth would be particularly important following battles that are lost. The likelihood of future battles being won depends to a great extent on the numbers of the group. When group members are supportive of one another following a defeat, and especially dominants supporting subordinates, this ensures that members stick to the group.

This behavior among Green Woodhoopoes is reportedly the first time that animals other than humans have been observed displayed an intensifying of bonding following a loss. Certainly, as researchers discover more about bird behavior and intelligence, it would seem that being called “bird-brain” should be viewed as a compliment.

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