Endangered Crested Ibises benefit by joining forces with Little Egrets

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Researchers have found evidence of how endangered Crested Ibises are benefiting by grouping with Little Egrets that are more visually-oriented bird species.

Scientists at Beijing Forestry University and their colleagues studied how Crested Ibises are able to boost foraging opportunities while reducing the risk of predation by joining mixed-species flocks. Researchers note that while there is a risk of competition and risk, the benefits outweigh the risks.

Yuanxing Ye and Changqing Ding of the Beijing Forestry University and their colleagues studied the behavior of Crested Ibises foraging with and without Little Egrets in central China’s Shaanxi Province. The team recorded birds’ behavior to determine whether they picked up on social cues from the other species. Scientists analysed the video footage to determine that the Ibises were indeed benefiting by becoming alert to threats sooner, suggesting they felt less at risk when mingling with the more visually-oriented egrets.

Once believe to be extinct, seven birds of the Crested Ibises species were spotted in a remote area of China in 1981 giving hope that these birds may have found a way to save themselves from unfavorable conditions.

Scientists say they have found new information about their foraging behavior and this could benefit ibis conservation. Conservationists could develop habitat conditions that favor mixed-species flocks thereby reducing the perception of risk by ibises due to the early warning effects of egrets.

“Mixed-species flocks are a common occurrence in birds, but little is known about the costs and benefits of joining such groups when species differ in their foraging tactics,” adds the University of Montreal’s Guy Beauchamp, an expert on group living in birds. “In this case, ibises benefitted from joining another more visually-oriented species in that they detected threats more quickly. This study shows how detailed behavioral observations can help us understand why species forage in groups and also join other species.”