Nav: Home

Study finds aromatic herbs lead to better parenting in starlings

June 05, 2018

For European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris), the presence of aromatic herbs in the nest leads to some improved parenting behaviors, according to a new study. Specifically, birds whose nests incorporate herbs along with dried grasses were more likely to attend their nests, exhibited better incubation behavior for their eggs, and became active earlier in the day.

For the study, researchers replaced 36 natural starling nests in nest boxes with artificially made nests. Each nest retained the female's clutch of eggs. Half of the artificial nests included dry grass and a combination of herbs commonly found in starling nests. The other half of the nests had only dry grass. The herbs included were yarrow, or milfoil, (Achillea millefolium); hogweed (Heracleum spondyleum); cow parsley (Anthriscus silvestris); black elder (Sambucus niger); goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria); and willow (Salix alba).

The researchers also placed a "dummy" egg in each nest, which monitored temperature in the nest.

"Egg temperatures and nest attendance were higher in herb than nonherb nests - particularly early in the incubation period," says Caren Cooper, co-author of a paper on the work and a research associate professor in North Carolina State University's Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources.

"In addition, egg temperatures dropped less frequently below critical thresholds in nests that contained herbs, and those parents started their active day earlier," says Cooper, who is also the assistant head of the biodiversity research lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

The percentage of eggs that hatched successfully was the same for both herb and nonherb nests. However, hatchlings in the herb nests showed signs of developing more rapidly in the egg than their nonherb peers, and nestlings in herb nests were more successful in gaining body mass after hatching.

"While the data indicate that these herbs influenced incubation behavior in a positive way, it's not entirely clear how that's happening," Cooper says.

"It's possible that one or more of the herbs have pharmacological effects on the parents," says Helga Gwinner of the Max-Planck Institute for Ornithology, who is a first author of the paper.

"We had previously observed that young from nests that are rich in herbs have improved health indicators," Gwinner adds. "Starlings select particular herbs for decorating their nests. Intriguingly, some of these herbs are also used in folk medicine. Their known sedative effects might influence incubation behavior by inducing higher nest attendance and reduce exposure of eggs to low ambient temperature."

The study highlights the importance of the nesting environment for developing nestlings and the wisdom of avian parents.

"Use of volatile herbs is observed in many species," Cooper says. "More recently, birds have also started to include human objects in their nests. Their benefits and harm should be carefully observed."
-end-
The paper, "'Green incubation': avian offspring benefit from aromatic nest herbs through improved parental incubation behavior," will be published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B. The work is under embargo until 00:01 BST on June 6 (19:01 EDT on June 5). Barbara Helm of the University of Glasgow and University of Groningen is a co-corresponding author. The paper was co-authored by Pablo Capilla-Lasheras of the University of Exeter.

North Carolina State University

Related Birds Articles:

Diving birds follow each other when fishing
Diving seabirds watch each other to work out when to dive, new research shows.
Why do birds migrate at night?
Researchers found migratory birds maximize how much light they get from their environment, so they can migrate even at night. 
How can robots land like birds?
Birds can perch on a wide variety of surfaces, thick or thin, rough or slick.
Is wildfire management 'for the birds?'
Spotted owl populations are in decline all along the West Coast, and as climate change increases the risk of large and destructive wildfires in the region, these iconic animals face the real threat of losing even more of their forest habitat.
Feathers came first, then birds
New research, led by the University of Bristol, suggests that feathers arose 100 million years before birds -- changing how we look at dinosaurs, birds, and pterosaurs, the flying reptiles.
First birds: Archaeopteryx gets company
Researchers at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich describe a hitherto unknown bird from the late Jurassic period.
Are coffee farms for the birds? Yes and no
Through painstaking banding of individual birds, Sekercioglu asked whether the expansion of coffee plantations is reducing tropical bird biodiversity.
Birds bug out over coffee
New research conducted by the University of Delaware has found that birds are as picky as coffee snobs when it comes to the trees they'll migrate to for a summer habitat.
Speciation: Birds of a feather...
Carrion crows and hooded crows are almost indistinguishable genetically, and hybrid offspring are fertile.
How much rainforest do birds need?
Researchers of the Department of Conservation Biology at the University of Göttingen have carried out research in Southwest Cameroon to assess which proportion of forest would be necessary in order to provide sufficient habitat for rainforest bird species.
More Birds News and Birds Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Rethinking Anger
Anger is universal and complex: it can be quiet, festering, justified, vengeful, and destructive. This hour, TED speakers explore the many sides of anger, why we need it, and who's allowed to feel it. Guests include psychologists Ryan Martin and Russell Kolts, writer Soraya Chemaly, former talk radio host Lisa Fritsch, and business professor Dan Moshavi.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#538 Nobels and Astrophysics
This week we start with this year's physics Nobel Prize awarded to Jim Peebles, Michel Mayor, and Didier Queloz and finish with a discussion of the Nobel Prizes as a way to award and highlight important science. Are they still relevant? When science breakthroughs are built on the backs of hundreds -- and sometimes thousands -- of people's hard work, how do you pick just three to highlight? Join host Rachelle Saunders and astrophysicist, author, and science communicator Ethan Siegel for their chat about astrophysics and Nobel Prizes.