Nest building by weaver birds

Dr Susan Healy & Dr Patrick Walsh (University of St. Andrews)

 Nest building by weaver birds

Weaver birds are the iconic complex nest builders, incorporating a multitude of knots into the weaving of their nests.  And yet we know little about how or why they build the nests they do.  Although it is usually assumed that their building behaviour is almost entirely genetic, we wanted to determine whether this was or was not the case.  As there are so few data, we have begun to address the question simply by attempting to determine the degree to which male Southern Masked weavers are stereotyped in their building and in the nests they construct.   As males build multiple nests in a season we examined variation in the behaviour of males building sequential nests as well as the resulting structures: males built smaller and lighter nests as the season progressed, a change that could be due to experience.  We also carried out a removal experiment in which we photographed the first blade of grass the male wove, before we removed it.  We repeated this removal three times at four different sites for each male and found that males did not repeat the way in which he wove the grass.  Again, this result is consistent with the males responding flexibly to the grass removal.  These data lead us to propose that determining the cognitive abilities involved in nest building in birds may lead to a greater understanding of the evolution of cognitive abilities, including those of humans. 

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