Science - May 19, 2016

Popular great tits no more sociable

Text:
Roelof Kleis

Bold great tits are bosses. They rule the roost in the great tit community. But that doesn’t make them any more sociable. This is a key conclusion in Lysanne Snijders’ thesis To tweet or not to tweet.

Great tits have personalities, just like other mammals. There are enterprising, bold great tits at one end of the spectrum and unadventurous, shy birds at the other end. Those personalities affect the position of a great tit in its own circle. Shy great tits end up on the periphery of their social networks. In other words: they are unpopular. Enterprising great tits, on the other hand, have lots of social contacts. They are more aggressive and take a lot more risks.

But are these popular great tits actually more sociable? From lab-based research, it appears not. Snijders studied how great tits react when they see a stranger of their own species on a video screen. Bolder great tits turn out, contrary to expectations, to engage in much less interaction with the great tit on the screen than the shy great tits. ‘So the enterprising great tits are not driven by social motives,’ concludes Snijders.

It should be mentioned here that a lab test is not a field test. According to Snijders, the great tits might quickly realize that the bird on the screen is not a threat. This makes the shy birds more daring, while the bold birds are less interested. Another explanation is what Snijders calls the coffee machine effect. ‘Popular great tits in the wild might acquire more social contacts because they stay around popular hangouts. Places where there’s a lot of food, for instance.’


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