Sunday, January 23, 2011

Black Kites Decorate Their Nests with Human Rubbish as Warning to Intruders

A black kite nest decorated with plastic
A black kite with its young one in nest

In Spain's Donana National Park, scientists recently documented black kites using human rubbish to decorate their nests. The study showed that the kites would use plastic strips from old bags as a warning to other birds wanting to move into their territories. Among the people who documented this interesting behavior was Dr. Fabrizio Sergio, who stated that besides plastic, the birds would use other materials such as cloth and paper. He and his colleagues observed this behavior for five years, and found that the strongest birds were the ones having most plastic in their nests while the young and the elderly had less. The team stated that individuals with most plastic were the best at defending their territory and monopolized the food bait laid out by researchers. The white plastic functioned as a warning similar to a "KEEP OUT" or "NO TRESPASSING" sign. The team even tried to test this idea by making additions to the nests that hardly had any plastic at all. In response, the owners of those nests stripped out the plastic which showed that they would not risk any fights they could not win.

This is a really interesting and unique article, documenting an unusual behavior among birds of prey. Usually, birds like magpies and bowerbirds have earned the reputation of collecting unnatural materials. Magpies are one of the few species of birds that are attracted to shiny objects, which is one explanation why some people end up losing their valuables such as car keys, coins, and even expensive jewelry. Bowerbirds, on the other hand, collect such materials when building their bower-like nests in order to attract females. Each species decorates the nest based on a series of colors. For example, the satin bowerbird is known to decorate its nest with anything that is blue. But these kites collect plastic as a way to fend off any intruders. In my opinion, this behavior could also be a way for these birds to benefit their own natural ecosystem by clearing up plastic. However, that does not mean they will not be affected by any environmental hazards affecting their homeland. The Donana National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, famous for wild residents such as the highly endangered Iberian lynx. With such abundance of wildlife, it is a treasure which should be protected at all costs.

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