Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Murder in the magpie's nest: Brutal, non-parental infanticide in the black-billed magpie

Date:
July 11, 2011
Source:
Laboratory of Behavioral Ecology and Evolution at Seoul National University
Summary:
A brutal case of infanticide has been recently reported in the black-billed magpie. In a series of vivid videos, an adult perpetrator kills or drags out all six nestlings from a nest. Who could have done it, and why?

Finding their young dead in the nest is not uncommon for bird mothers. In many bird species some of the nestlings die before they leave the nest. This is known as "brood reduction," a common form of infanticide that the parents are to blame.

On the other hand, witnessing a perpetrator killing their young is a very rare event for avian mothers. There have been suspected cases and some observations of this "non-parental infanticide" in birds, but direct recordings of these occasions have been rare. A group of researchers from the Laboratory of Behavioral Ecology and Evolution at the Seoul National University found a striking incidence of infanticide in the black-billed magpie, one of common garden birds in Eurasia, and their findings are published in Journal of Ethology.

"It all started on the 1st of May 2010 with a nestling found alive on the ground." recalls Dr. Sang-im Lee, the leader of the magpie research group. This nestling was heavily injured on the head and the wings, and there were two more dead siblings on the ground near the nest. The researchers thought that the nestlings fledged too early and the two "unprepared" siblings died in the process. However, when the researchers retrieved video recording from the nest, there were shocking scenes of an adult magpie attacking and killing the nestlings. There were originally 6 nestlings in the nest, but they all were killed or evicted from the nest by the perpetrator during the four days of infanticidal events. Dr. Lee added "we have been recording magpies' nests since 2007 and this is the only case of infanticide out of 58 nests."

Who did this horrible thing? The researchers are pretty sure that it was not any of the parents. The perpetrator did not have any ring or any recognizable marks on the body whereas the father had rings on the leg and the mother had a worn-out tail. In addition, the first appearance of the perpetrator in the video shows very violent fights with the mother inside the nest. "It was more like being Agatha Christie's Poirot or Miss Marple, and there is no hard evidence for this case." says Dr. Lee. Because the perpetrator did not have any recognizable feature, it could have been several perpetrators taking turns to commit infanticide. But if it's just one individual, then the researchers suspect that it's the female parent of the neighbouring nest, whose nest was one hundred meters away from the victims' nest. This tentative conclusion is based on three facts; first, the parents of this neighbouring nest very often had agonistic interactions with the parents of the victim's nest; second, after the infanticide, the parents of the neighbouring nest expanded their territory to include victim's territory; and, finally, the male parent of this neighbouring pair had rings on the legs, so it cannot be him.

Non-parental infanticide has been reported in animals where males mate with several females (like lions killing the cups sired by the previous male), and where the individuals compete severely for a limited amount of resources such as nest site or territory. According to the researchers, this case seems to belong to the latter category because magpies are monogamous, the suspected perpetrator parents remained paired after the infanticide, and the victims' parents totally disappeared from the study area. It could be due to the unusually high density of magpies in this particular population (app. 40 pairs per square kilometers). Since the population is densely packed, the competition for the good territory can be intense. This territory was a good one indeed; it contains a pond where a lot of food items can be found.

What happened to the nestling who was found alive after the tragedy? Kyungseon Seo, the care-taker of this survivor named Boro, recalls the moments of severe epileptic seizures that could have taken Boro's life. Local vet suspects that it's due to the brain damage that Boro might have incurred from repeated pecking at her head by the perpetrator. But luckily, "Boro is completely healthy now and seems totally recovered from the tragedy." says Miss Seo.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Laboratory of Behavioral Ecology and Evolution at Seoul National University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Sang-im Lee, Kyungseon Seo, Wonyoung Lee, Woohjung Kim, Jae Chun Choe, Piotr Jabłoński. Non-parental infanticide in a dense population of the Black-billed Magpie (Pica pica). Journal of Ethology, 2011; DOI: 10.1007/s10164-011-0275-z

Cite This Page:

Laboratory of Behavioral Ecology and Evolution at Seoul National University. "Murder in the magpie's nest: Brutal, non-parental infanticide in the black-billed magpie." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 July 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110711093714.htm>.
Laboratory of Behavioral Ecology and Evolution at Seoul National University. (2011, July 11). Murder in the magpie's nest: Brutal, non-parental infanticide in the black-billed magpie. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110711093714.htm
Laboratory of Behavioral Ecology and Evolution at Seoul National University. "Murder in the magpie's nest: Brutal, non-parental infanticide in the black-billed magpie." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110711093714.htm (accessed September 1, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Monday, September 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

We've Got Mites Living In Our Faces And So Do You

We've Got Mites Living In Our Faces And So Do You

Newsy (Aug. 30, 2014) A new study suggests 100 percent of adult humans (those over 18 years of age) have Demodex mites living in their faces. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Washington Wildlife Center Goes Nuts Over Baby Squirrels

Washington Wildlife Center Goes Nuts Over Baby Squirrels

Reuters - US Online Video (Aug. 30, 2014) An animal rescue in Washington state receives an influx of orphaned squirrels, keeping workers busy as they nurse them back to health. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Experimental Ebola Drug ZMapp Cures Lab Monkeys Of Disease

Experimental Ebola Drug ZMapp Cures Lab Monkeys Of Disease

Newsy (Aug. 29, 2014) In a new study, a promising experimental treatment for Ebola managed to cure a group of infected macaque monkeys. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Killer Amoeba Found in Louisiana Water System

Killer Amoeba Found in Louisiana Water System

AP (Aug. 28, 2014) State health officials say testing has confirmed the presence of a killer amoeba in a water system serving three St. John the Baptist Parish towns. (Aug. 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins