Jan 16 2012

The Pool of Competence

Published by at 5:30 am under Bird Behavior

Two heads are better than one.  Are twenty better than two?

Among humans this is certainly the case.  The more people working together on a problem, the more likely it will be solved quickly.  Each person’s unique talents contribute to the whole and larger groups are more likely to contain someone with the right skills.  In sociology this is called the pool of competence.

Last September the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences published a study by Oxford University of the pool of competence among birds.  In Europe there are social birds similar to our chickadees, though larger, called the great tit (Parus major) and the blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus).  Both species are curious and learn from each other.

To test the birds’ ability, researchers set up intricate bird feeder problems for the flocks at Oxford’s Wytham Woods.  The feeders were equipped with levers and blocking devices that the birds could eventually bypass to get the seeds.

Smaller flocks took a long time to solve the puzzle but the larger the flock, the faster the problem was solved, making the seed accessible to all.  The surprise was that there was no upper limit on flock size after which this advantage tailed off.

Twenty is better than two.  Thirty is better than twenty.  More is better in the pool of competence.

Click here to read more about this study.

And… in this photo these birds look a lot like chickadees but they’re much more colorful.  Click here to see the great tit’s beautiful yellow belly and black stripe.  Click here for a better view of the blue tit.

(photo of a great tit and blue tit by Martin Mecnarowski via Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original.)

One response so far

One Response to “The Pool of Competence”

  1. Grampyon 17 Jan 2012 at 6:21 am

    Your thoughts here remind me of assumptions I have made. I assumed when fledglings left the nest the parents were done with them. This is not always the case observing bluebirds and cardinals on our farm. Often one hatchling may require assistance after leaving the nest for some time.

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