Neophobic birds are less likely to adapt to rewilding

Neophobic birds are less likely to adapt to rewilding

Bali myna (Leucopsar rothschildi) are medium-sized, starling-like birds native to Indonesia. Their striking white plumage, long crest, and blue eyespots make them attractive to cage bird enthusiasts around the world. Unfortunately, the trade in these birds is one of the factors that led to their virtual extinction in the wild. However, over a thousand individuals are kept in zoos and bird parks and it is hoped that these captive bred birds will help revitalize natural populations.

There are currently several captive breeding programs in Bali, Indonesia that produce the Myna birds specifically for release into areas where natural populations still exist. The remaining natural populations are only an estimated 50 birds, although attempts have been made for many decades to strengthen these populations through the reintroduction of captive bred birds. Either those introduced cannot cope with life in nature, or the illegal trade in these beautiful birds continues unabated within the nature reserves.

Whatever the reason, it is vital that the birds introduced into wild areas are strong, resourceful and are the individuals most likely to survive the obstacles in their wild habitats. With this in mind, a team led by Dr. Rachael Miller of Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) described methods to test how 22 captive Bali Mynas responded to the presentation of novel objects and foods and how well they tackled and solved simple problems.

“We specifically selected the Bali Myna for this study because it is critically endangered with fewer than 50 adult birds in the wild in Indonesia, but there is a captive breeding program with nearly 1,000 birds in zoos around the world,” explained Dr Mueller.

The study was conducted over a six-week period in three UK zoological collections – Waddesdon Manor (National Trust/Rothschild Foundation), Cotswolds Wildlife Park and Gardens and Birdworld, and researchers monitored the behavior of birds, the novel foods and other objects were exposed to, along with their ability to solve simple problems. These novel items were of the type likely to be encountered by myna birds in a new environment.

The results published in the journal royal company open science, show that neophobia (irrational fear of new objects) is a factor for some birds. Overall, birds offered food took longer to touch or handle when a novel item was also in the food bowl. This reluctance was influenced by age, with adult birds proving to be more neophobic than juveniles. The researchers also discovered that those birds that quickly touched familiar food placed next to a new object were also the fastest at solving problem-solving tasks.

The researchers believe that collecting this type of behavioral data can help with new conservation strategies. Behavioral flexibility is critical to an individual’s adaptability and survival, and therefore pre-release training and identification of specific birds for release could aid in the successful reintroduction of endangered species such as the Bali Myna to the wild.

“Neophobia can be useful because it can help birds avoid unknown dangers, but it can also affect their adaptation to new environments, such as through an increased reluctance to approach new foods,” said Dr. Miller.

“An understanding of behavioral flexibility, particularly how species and individuals within those species respond to and address new problems, is critical to conservation, especially as the world becomes increasingly urbanized. Many species need to adapt to human-induced environmental changes, and how an animal responds to novelty can predict post-release outcomes during reintroduction.”

This new study is part of a larger project that aims to combine bird cognition and behavioral research with conservation to help endangered species.

“As part of the active protection of the Bali Myna, there is a need to continually release birds to try to bolster the small, feral population. Now we have data on the behavioral flexibility of these birds that can help provide information on which birds are best suited for reintroduction. Our study has already established that the release of juvenile Bali-Myna[s] potentially be more successful than releasing adult birds, at least in terms of adaptability to new environments,” said Dr. Miller.

“Our data may also aid in the development of pre-release training, where captive birds can learn to increase fear responses to traps or humans when introduced to areas where poaching is occurring, or neophobia from exposure to.” unknown but safe forage to reduce sources in low resource areas. We believe that the overall results of the project can benefit not only the Bali Myna but hopefully many other endangered species.”

Through Alison Bosman, Earth.com Staff writer


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