Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Birds with bigger 'badges' rule the roost

Date:
December 2, 2013
Source:
McMaster University
Summary:
A New Zealand bird that conspicuously displays its status on the top of its head can provide valuable insight into the social conventions of all creatures, including humans, scientists have found.

A New Zealand bird that conspicuously displays its status on the top of its head can provide valuable insight into the social conventions of all creatures, including humans, scientists have found.

Research led by McMaster’s Cody Dey and Jim Quinn shows that the size of the “badge”, a fleshy red wedge extending from the beak and over the forehead of the pukeko, is an accurate indicator of the bird’s status – and that it apparently grows and shrinks in keeping with the bird’s standing in its social group.

“A lot of animals signal dominance or fighting ability to one another and some of them use these types of conventions,” Dey says. “It’s like a karate belt color. There’s no reason that a fighter wearing a black karate belt should be ranked any higher than a white belt, but that’s the convention, and everybody knows it and abides by it.”

The research opens a window into the sophisticated social order of the birds, which has implications for other species, including humans, explains Dey, a PhD candidate who worked with Quinn, a biology professor, and James Dale of Massey University in Auckland, NZ. The research appears in the prestigious biology journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

“I think people have this perception that humans have super-complex social lives and animals don’t. That’s absolutely not true. The social lives of many species of animals are very rich and very complex,” Dey says. “We have these types of signals of dominance. We don’t have red shields on our heads, but things like bicep size are known to be a signal of dominance in humans.”

To test the relationship between badge size and dominance, Dey and his colleagues traveled to New Zealand to observe these rail birds, similar to North American coots, in their habitat. They measured the distinctive badges on the birds’ heads and found wide variations among members of the same group, even though the birds were all about the same size.

The red badges stand out very distinctly against the birds’ black and indigo feathers and serve no physical purpose, leading the researchers to suspect that their function must be social.

Birds with larger badges played more dominant roles in the social hierarchies of their groups, and were challenged less frequently by birds of lower status.

The researchers took high-ranking birds and painted over the edges of their badges with black paint to make the badges appear smaller.

The birds with the altered badges experienced much more aggression from other members of their groups, and soon their badges shrank to reflect their newly diminished status. The change showed not only the connection between badge size and status, but that the status marker is a true indicator of a bird’s dominance.

“What keeps the system honest? It’s the interplay between the physical structure and the social encounters that keeps it honest,” Quinn says.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by McMaster University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. C. J. Dey, J. Dale, J. S. Quinn. Manipulating the appearance of a badge of status causes changes in true badge expression. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2013; 281 (1775): 20132680 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2013.2680

Cite This Page:

McMaster University. "Birds with bigger 'badges' rule the roost." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 December 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131202121054.htm>.
McMaster University. (2013, December 2). Birds with bigger 'badges' rule the roost. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 17, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131202121054.htm
McMaster University. "Birds with bigger 'badges' rule the roost." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131202121054.htm (accessed September 17, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Some Tobacco Farmers Thrive Amid Challenges

Some Tobacco Farmers Thrive Amid Challenges

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) The South's tobacco country is surviving, and even thriving in some cases, as demand overseas keeps growers in the fields of one of America's oldest cash crops. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Scientists Given Rare Glimpse of 350-Kilo Colossal Squid

Scientists Given Rare Glimpse of 350-Kilo Colossal Squid

AFP (Sep. 16, 2014) Scientists say a female colossal squid weighing an estimated 350 kilograms (770 lbs) and thought to be only the second intact specimen ever found was carrying eggs when discovered in the Antarctic. Duration: 00:47 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Scientists Examine Colossal Squid

Raw: Scientists Examine Colossal Squid

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) Squid experts in New Zealand thawed and examined an unusual catch on Tuesday: a colossal squid. It was captured in Antarctica's remote Ross Sea in December last year and has been frozen for eight months. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ivorians Abandon Monkey Pets in Fear Over Ebola Virus

Ivorians Abandon Monkey Pets in Fear Over Ebola Virus

AFP (Sep. 16, 2014) Since the arrival of Ebola in Ivory Coast, Ivorians have been abandoning their pets, particularly monkeys, in the fear that they may transmit the virus. Duration: 00:47 Video provided by AFP
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