Coordinated Shared Parenting Shown to Be Beneficial for Baby Birds

Long-tailed tits are more successful at raising young chicks when they alternate their feeding trips, scientists from the the UK’s University of Sheffield have found. A new study shows that parents who take it in turns to feed their chicks in the nest give their young more food and better protect them from being eaten by predators, in comparison to those who give them food at random intervals. This is the first time the strategy, which is similar to humans sharing late-night feeds, has been shown to benefit the family group. Lead author of the research, Kat Bebbington, Ph.D., said: “Parents with a young baby often take it in turns to do the grueling night-time feeds so that neither of them gets too exhausted. This is a situation we are all familiar with as humans, but there’s almost no evidence for animals doing this in nature. Our research shows that, for long-tailed tits at least, coordinating and alternating parental responsibilities like feeding can mean the difference between life and death for chicks.” The new research, which was published online on November 30, 2015 in the journal Behavioral Ecology, suggests that parents who take turns visiting the nest do so by making sure they both arrive at the nest at the same time. The article is titled “Coordinated Parental Provisioning Is Related to Feeding Rate and Reproductive Success in a Songbird.” This strategy allows the parents to keep an eye on whose turn it is to feed, but also means that, over the course of the day, parents spend less time near the nest than they would do if each visited the nest alone. Scientists believe this is the reason why chicks are less likely to be eaten if their parents take turns to feed them – visually-based predators like foxes and crows are less likely to be attracted to the nest if the parents are not flying around it as often.
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