Birds watch friends ‘for lessons in nest building’

Scottish scientists have studied zebra finches. Picture: PA/T.R. Birkhead

Scottish scientists have studied zebra finches. Picture: PA/T.R. Birkhead

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Birds learn how to build their nests from watching others they know, according to new research by Scottish scientists.

Studies of zebra finches have revealed that males who have never before constructed a nest take tips from more experienced birds – but only if they are acquainted. They ignore advice from strangers.

Biologists at the University of St Andrews, who carried out the research, say the findings shed new light on bird behaviour and represent the first evidence of social learning.

“Despite the popularity of bird-watching as a hobby and numerous scientific studies on bird behaviour, we still know very little about how a bird knows what nest to build,” said lead researcher Dr Lauren Guillette, from the university’s school of biology.

“Building a nest is a very important event in the life of a bird because they will lay their eggs and raise their young in there.

“They need to get it right or they will not reproduce.

“This study is the first to show that birds can learn about what nest to build from watching others.

“This is called social learning, and can save time and effort for first-time nest-builders because it allows them to capitalise on the success of others.”

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