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Superb fairy-wrens recognise an adult cuckoo … with some help

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They aren’t just pretty birdies – superb fairy-wrens teach each other to identify and fend off parasitic species such as cuckoos. William Feeney
Can superb fairy-wrens learn to respond to brood-parasitic cuckoos by simply watching other fairy-wrens react to a cuckoo? That’s the question posed in a new Biology Letters study by myself and Naomi Langmore of the Australian National University.


[...] previous work in this system has demonstrated that recognition of cuckoos is not innate, and therefore must be learned; and cuckoos are discreet, giving hosts few opportunities to learn what they are and the threat they pose. ...


While hosts could learn about cuckoos by experience, an alternate process by which hosts could obtain information about how to identify and respond to cuckoos is social learning (simply, learning by observing). This is not a new idea: several excellent studies have inferred that social learning is a way by which European reed warblers may learn and adjust their response to common cuckoos. ...


To ascertain the response of fairy-wrens to cuckoos, we used “model presentation” experiments – a method that comprises presenting a taxidermied (or in this study freeze-dried) model of a cuckoo to the target individuals, or group and noting their behavioural response.


Read more: http://theconversation.com/superb-fairy-wrens-recognise-an-adult-cuckoo-with-some-help-15124

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