‘Birds have outdone us’: Magpies work together to give scientists a hard time

Anyone who has ever been shot by a magpie will be horrified to learn that the birds work together.

A research team in Australia studying a new type of bird tracking device was surprised to find that magpies were cooperating to give them the runaway.

“When we attached tiny backpack-like tracking devices to five Australian magpies for a pilot study, we didn’t expect to discover a whole new social behavior rarely seen in birds,” wrote ecologist Dominique Potvin. animal scientist at the University of the Sunshine Coast, in an article for The Conversation.

“Our goal was to learn more about the movement and social dynamics of these highly intelligent birds, and to test these new durable and reusable devices. Instead, the birds outwitted us.

Magpies are a staple in the Australian bush and backyards. The iconic birds are known for their chirping calls and territorial yet playful nature. Most Australians – especially cyclists and runners – will likely have had some sort of experience with a magpie in their lifetime, as many heartbreaking but hilarious viral videos have shown.

According to Potvin’s research paper, after the scientists attached trackers to five birds, they began to display what appeared to be altruistic behavior: They cooperated to help each other remove the trackers. One bird broke another bird’s harness at the only weak point.

They seemed to help each other without getting any immediate, tangible reward, Potvin noted, demonstrating both cooperation and problem solving.

So it’s back to the drawing board for the team, who have to find a more efficient way to collect bird data.

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