Us humans like to surround ourselves with people we get along with, and a new study suggests that some birds mightn't be all that different. Scientists from the University of Oxford investigating the social networks of wild great tits have found that those sharing similar personality traits tend to nest near one another, with mating success appearing to be one of the underlying motives.
Studies into social interactions between birds have revealed some interesting insights over the years. A 2015 study, for instance, found that whether mating birds stay together for the long haul, or are tempted away by other lovers, might depend on their social circles. A 2013 study found that "shy" male birds tend to flock together and avoid bolder counterparts.
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The latest little nugget from the avian world comes as a result of a six-year study carried out by the Oxford researchers, who wanted to know whether the personality of birds affected their social lives and who they choose to nest near.
The team first assessed the personality of wild great tits by introducing them to a new environment and seeing how they responded. Those that actively explored the new surroundings were seen as bold, while the more hesitant birds were categorized as shy. The team describes this exploratory behavior as a well-studied personality trait.
By then studying the social network structure of this population across six breeding seasons, the team formed a picture of breeding proximity between the different groups of birds. It found that males tended to be fussy about their neighbors, setting up shop close to birds with a similar personality.
The researchers believe there might be a few reasons for this behavior. First and foremost, tensions are heightened during the peak of the breeding season when competition for mates really heats up. If a shy bird resides near other shy birds, he might avoid conflict with bolder, more aggressive males.
It could also increase the chances of survival and ability to pass on their genes. This could be a factor with the bolder males, too, who may benefit by grouping together and having their collective aggression play a role in warding off would-be intruders. Interestingly, the researchers say that local environmental conditions didn't seem to be as important in the selection of locations for the breeding season.
"Just like students choosing their flatmates, birds may pay more attention to who they share their living space with than simply location," says lead author Katerina Johnson. "Animal personalities can influence their social organization and humans are likewise known to form social networks based on shared attributes including personality."
The research was published in the journal Animal Behavior.
Source: University of Oxford