Thursday, April 11, 2013

Baby blackmailers

Everyone loves heartwarming stories of mother animals nurturing and defending their innocent babes. But like everything else about animals, when you look closely, their family life is not as nice as they like you to think.

A recent study of a bird called the pied babbler shows that fledglings apparently blackmail their parents into feeding them more. The researchers found that babies that were on the ground at risk from predators got four times as much food as when they were safe in a tree. And when the scientists played recordings of the birds' ground predator alarm call, the parents doubled the feeding rate.

So, what the heck is up with that?
Fascinated, the team speculated that the young, which were slower than adults to respond to the alarm calls and cannot escape as quickly from danger, were intentionally putting themselves into a dangerous situation when hungry to force their parents to pay attention and feed them.
The study's author, asked to comment on parallels with human offspring, apparently knows exactly what this is like:
Thompson doubts it is possible to draw any real parallels between the birds' behaviour and that of human teenagers who love to do risky things to attract attention. But a mother shopping with a screaming baby in tow may be a better analogy. “I know from personal experience that parents are more willing to buy kids sweets or treats if they start screaming in a public place. It isn't a predation risk, but it is an embarrassment risk."

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