Dec 13 2013
The practice of giving plum jobs to your relatives is widely frowned upon but nepotism is a very successful survival strategy — so successful that some birds use it too.
Closely related to North America’s gray jay, Siberian jays (Perisoreus infaustus) live in the boreal forest of Northern Europe. Like other corvids in limited habitats they breed cooperatively. Each breeding pair has a suite of relatives who help guard the nest and feed the young. Often the kids stay with their parents even though they’re old enough to breed.
Studies in Sweden have shown that male Siberian jays who stay with their parents are much more successful than those who leave home because their fathers practice nepotism. The father jays protect their own sons and harass incoming males who try to join the group. The sons thrive and learn while they wait for a good territory to become available.
The exception proved the rule. Ekman and Griesser experimentally removed fathers and watched as they were replaced by despotic immigrant males who ejected the missing fathers’ sons. If dad’s not there to protect you, watch out!
Success through nepotism.
(photo of a banded Siberian jay from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original.
Today’s Tenth Page is inspired by page 390 of Ornithology by Frank B. Gill.)