Vulturine guineafowl move in highly cohesive groups. This cohesion allows them to coordinate their actions as they move together through the landscape, and therefore maintain stable group membership over extensive periods of time. Credit: James Klarevas (via)
Vulturine guineafowl move in packs like other birds of a feather, but a recent study has discovered that these birds are pretty picky about the packs they move in, much like humans, elephants, dolphins, and other large-brained species.
Though the vulturine guineafowl is small-brained like other birds who either stay with their mates and offspring and/or loosely form packs with other members of their own species, this study of the socialization behavior of vulturine guineafowl, published in the journal Current Biology, points to their ability to form a multilevel society.
Study of vulturine guineafowl societies was undertaken by scientists at the Max Planck Insitute and the University of Konstanz in Germany. Four hundred birds were observed in their natural habitat in Kenya over multiple seasons. The birds were each tagged so they could be followed individually, and the researchers found that these birds formed 18 distinct social groups with between 13 and 65 individuals in each group.
Groups of vulturine guineafowl can become very large, and when multiple groups come into contact the number of birds moving togethercan reach into the hundreds. However, when these 'super-groups' eventually split, they do so back into their original stable group units, meaning that individuals are knowledgeableabout who is part of their group and who is not. Credit: Danai Papageorgiou (via)
This means that not only do these birds form connections with other members of their species to form a cohesive group, but that they can recognize and form connections with species members in other groups as well. Unlike other bird colonies that form opportunistically, vulturine guineafowl seem to get along quite peacefully with members of their immediate groupings as well as other groups and that they choose those groups just like humans and other large brained mammals choose their social groups.
"They seemed to have the right elements to form complex social structures, and yet nothing was known about them," says Danai Papageorgiou, lead author on the paper and a Ph.D. student at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior.
"To our knowledge, this is the first time a social structure like this has been described for birds," says Papageorgiou. "It is remarkable to observe hundreds of birds coming out of a roost and splitting up perfectly into completely stable groups every single day. How do they do that? It's obviously not just about being smart." (via)