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Begging Birds

November 29, 2005

Science reporter Bob Hirshon answers one listener’s question about the challenges of avian parenting.


Sibling rivalry in the nest. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Listener Nga Lam of Seattle called to ask how parent birds know which chicks to feed when they return to the nest with food. Well, Nga, the answer depends on the species. Behavioral ecologist Justin Schuetz of the Southern Sierra Research Station says parent birds can’t remember which chick they fed last, so they often give food to the loudest and pushiest chicks. This isn’t as bad as it sounds, because those birds also tend to be the hungriest. Scheutz says many parents distribute food quite fairly using this strategy.

JUSTIN SCHEUTZ (Southern Sierra Research Station):
And then there are other species where chicks often fight it out quite literally to the death over resources that parents are bringing back to the nest.

If you want your science question answered on the show, be loud and pushy! Call us at 1-800-why-isit. If we use your question on the air, you’ll win a Science Update mug. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.