Zebra finch parenting, new research


This video says about itself:

Zebra finch courtship song

15 November 2012

A Zebra finch male sings to a female that he thinks is attractive. She’s just not that into him though. Better luck next time fella.

From the Washington Post in the USA:

Bad parenting? Baby zebra finch don’t tolerate it. They look for better role models

By Darryl Fears

July 23 at 12:00 PM

Bad parenting is for the birds. Even baby zebra finch know this.

Newly hatched chicks whose parents are poor foragers often get stressed from lack of food, leading them to quickly write off mom and dad. Babies a few days old run off in search of better role models — adults that know what they’re doing.

In a two-year study that followed chicks from the moment they were hatched to the moment they were ready to leave the nest a little more than a month later, researchers found that “stressed chicks got away from their parents earlier,” said Neeltje Boogert, a biologist at the University of Cambridge who led the research. “They didn’t copy their parents behavior.”

Dumping clueless parents for better fill-ins is a positive sign for the finch. “If you had a rough start early in life, you might not be doomed,” Boogert explained. Nothing in the study suggested this behavior is applicable to other animals, or showed any parallels to humans, Boogert said.

Scientists have long studied the consequences of stress on individual animals to examine its impact on their behaviors, Boogert said. She wanted to take it another step by studying social animals such as the finch to determine how they coped. Boogert and her co-authors were slightly surprised to see youngsters diss their parents so quickly. The findings were published Thursday in the journal Current Biology.

When food is scarce, or the temperature in a habitat is too cold, resulting from bad parenting, stress hormones are chronically elevated. The consequence in animals, like humans, is often depression, anxiety, panic attacks, sleep disorder and other detrimental impacts.

The question no one had sought to answer, as far is Boogert knew, is how a social animal would compensate. A study authored by Boogert last year said adding stress hormones to the diets of baby finch had a positive effect because they ended up with more friends by adulthood than young birds that were not stressed. But that study didn’t tell researchers why stressed chicks were making so many friends.

For the more recent research, Boogert fed stress hormones inserted in oils to newly hatched chicks in a lab at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Each finch in the small colony observed for the study was labeled with a bar code for tracking.

Observers noticed right away that finch chicks with elevated stress hormones followed adults different from their parents to feeding stations. In this case, the parents hadn’t done anything wrong — but the artificially stressed out chicks didn’t know that.

The study didn’t bother with studying how parents react to the put-down of being replaced. Clinical stares were glued on the jittery chicks.

“You can turn to other sources of information,” the author said. “I think it is actually a positive message. Instead of being stuck you can change who you’re going to follow and make a better life for yourself.”

See also here.

5 thoughts on “Zebra finch parenting, new research

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