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Do parents with extra help goof off?

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2:36pm, August 7, 2001

A mere human might slack off on the baby care if a nanny suddenly materialized, but a test of house sparrows has found the opposite reaction.

Douglas W. Mock of the University of Oklahoma in Norman compares the experiment to the 1950s television show The Millionaire. It featured stories of people who, out of the blue, received a million dollars from the show's fictional philanthropist. Much of the drama, Mock points out, came from the recipients' lives falling apart.

In an avian version of the million-dollar windfall, Mock and his colleagues provided extra feedings to some nests of sparrows, but not to others. Mock studies the evolutionary stability of monogamy, and he wondered whether the males in the lucky nests would "goof off and participate in skirt chasing."

Not so. He saw no significant jump in parental care among these males.

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