Farm-reared partridges are the object of a new study at the University of León, which has conducted an experiment to demonstrate whether it is possible to train these animals using adult ‘tutor’ birds to improve their survival in the wild. Their findings suggest that this system of learning is effective against their predators.
Each year, millions of game birds are reared on farms to be released into the wild later. Partridges are one such example. However, only a few such animals survive in nature, and even fewer reproduce.
Partridges reared in captivity on farms have problems because they are not in contact with their natural predators, such as raptors and foxes. Spanish researchers have undertaken a study that proves that using adult red-legged partridges as ‘tutors’ to partridge chicks on the farm is an effective method to ensure these chicks grow to survive longer when faced with an attack.
As Carlos Sánchez-García, a University of León researcher and main author of the study published by the journal ‘British Poultry Science’, explains to SINC: “We evaluated the anti-predator behaviour of groups of chicks – over 400 animals – who were reared with these tutors and we compared their behaviour to that of groups of partridges of the same number and conditions but without the presence of tutors.”
Scientists simulated a raptor’s arrival using a cardboard model, which was shown to the chicks housed in the typical huts or birdhouses in which they are reared once they have been artificially incubated. They also studied the anti-predatory behaviour of these partridge chicks if a person went inside the hut for a few seconds. These trials were carried out on days 1 and 4, 15 and 17, and 30 and 32 of life. The behaviour of the chicks and tutors was recorded on video, which was then analysed, Sánchez-García explained.
In the presence of the raptor model, the tutors emitted a sound characteristic of an alarm call in 76% of the trials, and showed prolonged crouching on 59% of occasions. When a person entered the hut, the tutors emitted calls in 73% of trials and showed vigilance behaviour in 78% of simulations. On the other hand, in another hut partridge chicks were reared without contact with tutor birds.
“Both trained and untrained birds demonstrated the same type of behaviour in the presence of a raptor model (crouching) and when a person came into the hut (fleeing), but we observed that the trained chicks responded in a more general and prolonged way to these stimuli, while not all of the other chicks responded to the stimuli and on occasions the duration of the behaviour was very short,” the scientist explains.
This would appear to show that anti-predator training programmes can be carried out in captivity, as has been demonstrated in other species. Additionally, the authors continued this study by releasing these partridges to establish whether the training was effective. The result of following up on the birds after release showed that the trained partridges survived more days than those that had not been trained.
C. Sánchez-García, M.E. Alonso, E.J. Tizado, J. A. Pérez, J. A. Armenteros & V. R. Gaudioso British. “Anti-predator behaviour of adult red-legged partridge (Alectoris rufa) tutors improves the defensive responses of farm-reared broods” British Poultry Science 57 (3), 306-316, DOI: 10.1080/00071668.2016.1162283 http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00071668.2016.1162283
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