Birds of a feather show different personality traits
THE NOTION of personality seems inherently human, but other species have traits that could be described as part of their personality. The great tits involved in the study certainly exhibited a variety of personality traits.
Dr John Quinn uses the term advisedly. “Everyone knows what personality means: the traits that make up you.” The birds exhibited just such traits. “They have consistent behavioural tendencies.”
Some of the birds emerged as bold “risk takers”, those more willing to move further away from their own patch of the Wytham Wood near Oxford. Some were more aggressive, others were better socialisers and others still were particularly promiscuous.
And the higher likelihood of the cleverer tits to abandon their fledglings early was also related to the personality of the bird, Quinn says.
These birds were more risk averse, he says, and more likely to leave their young, possibly due to a greater awareness of the presence of humans. “Some of the birds were responding negatively to us because they saw us as a predator.”
Yet most birds seemed unbothered by humans. As part of the experiment, wild birds were collected and put into cages so they could try to solve the puzzle to acquire food.
“What amazed me when studying the great tit was their apparent indifference when in captivity,” he says. “Once in the cage they sat and watched you. It was observing you as much as you observing it.”
There were also differences in the way that the birds solved the puzzle to acquire the food. A wax moth larva was placed in a perspex tube, supported by a small platform held in place by a stick of wood. If the stick was removed, the platform and the larva fell to the bottom of the tube, where the bird could recover it.
Some took a quick look at the puzzle and solved it within seconds. Others had to work at it for a while.
Touching the stick sometimes made the food move. Some birds responded by pecking at the stick, eventually making the connection and successfully removing the stick to release the food reward.
“We know there is a learning process,” he says. “Based on what we have seen there seems to be a strong cognitive component.”