Badly matched birds make troubled parents

From Burlington, Vt., at a meeting of the Animal Behavior Society

The troubles of parents who don’t communicate well take a toll on their offspring—even among cockatiels.

That’s the conclusion of work by Rebecca Fox, now of the University of Nevada in Reno.

She let captive cockatiels choose mates and gauged how well matched each pair was, according to a “personality” test of cockatiel traits. Some birds seemed compatible, and others ended up very dissimilar. Nine of the pairs laid eggs and raised young, and Fox reported that the better-matched pairs tended to fledge more chicks.

Fox analyzed how the parents managed a basic task: switching places at the nest. Sometimes the process went awry, with both parents leaving the nest. In one case, both parents stayed away for 4 hours.

The more-compatible pairs failed at changing the guard 15 percent of the time. The less-compatible pairs’ failure rate was 80 percent.

Biologists tend to emphasize the qualities of an individual animal in producing offspring, says Fox. She urges more attention to how well a pair functions as a unit.

Susan Milius is the life sciences writer, covering organismal biology and evolution, and has a special passion for plants, fungi and invertebrates. She studied biology and English literature.

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