Why birds are awesome [part 1]

Magpies are my favourite animal, and I’ll readily admit to anyone that I’m a complete and utter bird nerd. I love to get lost in nature with the calming sounds of birdsong, and marvel at their skills and quirks.

Birds are awesome, and here are some reasons why.


Magpies hold impromptu funerals and mourn their dead

Dr Marc Bekoff (University of Colorado) has studied magpie behaviour and discovered they have a habit of holding impromptu funerals. This is what they look like.

When a magpie discovers a dead magpie, it will call as loudly as it can to attract all of the other magpies in the area. The magpies will join in the squawking, the sounds getting louder as they continue to gather around the body. This noise will then fall silent for a period of reflection, where the magpies will walk around their deceased kind. Sometimes they’ll nudge or preen the bird, or fly away to bring back flowers and grass to lay by the corpse. The magpies will then start to individually leave the scene in silence.

“We can’t know what they were actually thinking or feeling, but reading their action there’s no reason not to believe these birds were saying a magpie farewell to their friend.” — Dr Marc Bekoff


Female robins get food cravings — and their male partners can guess what the cravings are.

When the male robin has found a mate, he will strengthen their bond by bringing the female food. Female robins will beg for food nosily, which historically has been mistaken to be the mother feeding their young.

Rachael Shaw (Victoria University of Wellington) led a study which observed 16 pairs of of New Zealand robins while the female was incubating. The female robins were fed mealworms and larvae in two conditions: when a male could see what his partner ate and when he couldn’t. Females generally craved food types that they hadn’t seen recently. When a male robin held a preferred food item, his partner begged more intensely for it. The males knew what food to bring, even when they couldn’t see what the researchers had fed the females.

“Our results suggest that it is likely that a female robin’s behaviour informs the male’s decisions about both the type and quantity of food that he should share. Food-sharing with mates can increase breeding success in socially monogamous species with bi-parental care.

This is important because in monogamous species such as New Zealand robins, food sharing by the male is vital to help the female offset the energetic costs of reproduction, such as egg laying and incubation. The male’s ability to give his mate what she wants could be an important factor in determining the success of a pair, as well as influencing whether they stay together” — Shaw

More robin facts & things:

  • The robin was declared ‘Britain’s National Bird’ on December 15th, 1960 and has since been re-voted in 2015 by 224,000 people.

Blue tits build their nests with plants that have antibacteria/aromatic properties.

Blue tits line their nests with lavender, mint and other aromatic plants to kill bacteria, lower the risk of infection and create a more sterile environment for their chicks. These plants have chemical compounds typically used by humans to create house cleaners and herbal medicines.

“[Blue tits] are real botanists and do a great job exploiting their environment to protect their chicks.” — Marcel Lambrechts

In a study by Adéle Mennerat (University of Bergen), she found that chicks from these lined nests grew faster and had a higher proportion of red blood cells, increasing their future chances of survival after they’ve flown the nest.

However, these aromatic nests have no effect on the adult blue tits as they have more interactions away from the nest, and therefore different interactions with bacteria.


So that’s part 1 of why I think birds are awesome. More to follow!

Design, leadership, open culture, data, ethics, justice. These are my personal thoughts on work.

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