Gorgeous wrens are more likely to help relatives in need than strangers, such as humans

What do beautiful fairy kings have in common with humans? They are more likely to help a family member in need than a stranger.

The study, conducted by scientists from Monash University and Australian National University, followed the beloved songbirds in the first study to focus on understanding how animals that live in multi-level societies, such as humans, decide to help each other. when they need it.

The study, published in Current Biology, tested this by placing a fake kookaburra nearby, a predator of the magnificent wren, and then emitting a cry of distress that varied according to social relationships.

Related: ‘Tiny little balls of pure joy’: why the gorgeous wren won our 2021 Australian bird of the year

When a member of a fabulous fairy winter’s family is attacked, the researchers found it risks life and limb to distract the predator. The bird will sound the alarm, or puff up its feathers and run around like a mouse in what’s known as a “rodent run.”

“It was remarkable to see,” says Prof. Robert Magrath, a co-author of the study from the ANU. “It’s like the bird is changing its costume into something really strange.”

But if the beautiful wren being attacked is a familiar one, the researchers found it will help, but not as intensely. If the beautiful wren attacked is a stranger, it will completely ignore the cry for help.

“[It] It was really amazing how much variation there was in the amount of help that was provided,’ Magrath said.

Ettore Camerlenghi, the study’s lead author and a doctoral student at Monash University, said beautiful fairy queens, like humans, have a core social group.

“We found that, like hunter-gatherers, the wrens have three different types of relationships: those of the same breeding group, known individuals from the same community, and unknown birds from the wider population,” Camerlenghi said.

The beautiful wren is one of Australia’s most loved birds and was voted bird of the year 2021 in the Guardian Australia/BirdLife Australia poll. The poll will return later this year.

BirdLife Australia’s Sean Dooley said it was the complexity and idiosyncrasy of the social lives of fabulous fairy wrens, such as those revealed in the study, that made the bird a favorite among Australians.

“Everything we learn about the wren makes you love them more,” Dooley said.

“They are socially monogamous, but they are also incredibly sexually promiscuous… Very few of the [superb fairywren] chicks are sired by the male parent in the pair.

“The lives of the fairy queens rival the greatest intrigue of a soap opera.”

Superb wrens, found in southeastern Australia, are known for the ultraviolet blue that the male birds show off when it’s breeding season. Female gorgeous wrens have the same brown and white plumage all year round.

The birds are one of the most common small bush birds in BirdLife Australia’s annual bird census, Dooley said, but numbers declined dramatically in urban and extra-urban areas.

BirdLife Australia is a partner in a citizen science project that will guide habitat restoration of beautiful fairy wrens in central Melbourne by tracking where the birds live and forage.

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