Birds Would Rather Starve Than Be Lovesick

By J. Dionne, University Herald

Nov. 13, 2015

Wild birds prefer a heart full of love to a full belly, according to a recent study.

Researchers from the University of Oxford revealed that wild birds will sacrifice access to food in order to stay close to their partner over the winter. Birds with significant others chose to prioritize their relationships over sustenance in an experiment that prevented couples from "foraging in the same location," NDTV reported. This also meant birds ended up spending a significant amount of time with their partners' flock-mates.

"The choice to stay close to their partner over accessing food demonstrates how an individual bird's decisions in the short term, which might appear sub-optimal, can actually be shaped around gaining the long-term benefits of maintaining their key relationships. For instance, great tits require a partner to be able to reproduce and raise their chicks," Josh Firth, who led the study, said in a statement. "Therefore, even in wild animals, an individual's behavior can be governed by aiming to accommodate the needs of those they are socially attached to."

The study, which was carried out at Oxford University's Wytham Woods site to the west of Oxford, involved the use of automated feeding stations with the ability to decide which individual birds could and could not access the food inside. Birds were allowed access based on radio frequency identification tags that were linked to the feeding stations.

In the experiment, mated pairs of birds were unable to access the same feeding stations as each other, meaning the male could only access the feeding stations that the female could not, and vice versa," The Telegraph reported.

The researchers found that the birds randomly selected not to be allowed access to the same feeding stations as their partner spent significantly more time at feeders they could not access than birds that were allowed to feed together.

"Because these birds choose to stay with their partners, they also end up associating with their partners' flock-mates, even if they wouldn't usually associate with these individuals. This shows how the company an individual bird keeps may depend on their partner's preferences as well as their own," Firth said.

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