Written By: Sarah Girton
What are the benefits of staying in a group of your fellows, when you could just as well go live a peaceful, solitary life? There’s no food to share, no resources to fight over. Then again…isn’t it nice to know you’ve got family and friends watching your back to alert you to predators, to let you know when there’s a delicious food source nearby, or to help keep you warm at night?
Birds have got this all figured out. Over countless generations, each species has chosen and honed its preferred social structure. There are downsides and benefits to either choice, so this week we are going to dissect both sides and take a look at which birds prefer which behavior.
If there was a Grand Prize for sociality among birds, it would have to go to the Waxwings, both Cedar and Bohemian. These birds eat together, nest together…everything! It’s a brilliant strategy because everyone gets to pitch in for the greater good of the flock.
Waxwings, along with other birds like sparrows, are one of the most extreme examples of social behavior in birds. But thousands of other species are only social during certain times of year, or in separate male and female groups. Wild turkeys are one of these birds. Females and young will form their own extended family groups. Males of all ages and will stick together, constantly sorting out their hierarchies.
There are many birds that are solitary most of the year, and then come together during the breeding season. A lot of sea birds fall into this category. The Wandering Albatross spends most of the year at sea, returning to their nesting grounds to meet up with their mate and raise a chick, usually in early November. American Robins are another example of a bird like this. During Spring and Summer, pairs will form in order to raise several broods of chicks. In winter they are more likely to flock with other Robins, but they do not cooperate, in fact they are still pretty defensive over food sources.
And then there are some birds who do not socialize whatsoever. Hummingbirds, as you may know, are famously independent! The only non-aggressive behavior these guys display towards each other is the very short courtship and mating display. Once a female selects a male, they mate, and then never interact again unless the female has the time for a second brood during that same season.
So, we’ve taken a look at many different types of socialization between birds. Which one stands out to you as the most sensible? There are definitely positives and negatives to each type. Being an introvert, I’d probably prefer something on the more independent side…maybe somewhere between Robin and Hummingbird. What about you?