OXFORD, England — Birds choose like-minded nest neighbors in the woods very similarly to how humans would go about choosing a compatible personality type for a roommate, a new study on wild great tits finds.
Researchers at Oxford University analyzed the social network structure of wild great tits (Parus major) over six breeding seasons and discovered that the males — but not the females — were very selective in their choices for next neighbors. The new study finds that male great tits are quite selective when it comes to choosing birds to surround themselves with near their nests.
“We found that males, but not females, were picky about personalities, with males opting for like-minded neighbors,” says study co-author and doctoral student Katerina Johnson of Oxford in a university news release. “Our results emphasize that social interactions may play a key role in animal decisions.”
Male great tits chose to associate with similarly-behaved males in what the researchers say is a move to defend their territories when aggression among the birds is at its peak during breeding season. Looking for opportunities to mate with female great tits, less aggressive males look to avoid nesting next to bolder and more aggressive males. On the other hand, female birds were more likely to choose their nesting location based on the attractive qualities of the male birds in the area.
“Just like students choosing their flatmates,” Johnson adds, “birds may pay more attention to who they share their living space with than simply location. Animal personalities can influence their social organization and humans are likewise known to form social networks based on shared attributes including personality.”
The researchers tested the personality traits of great tits by introducing a novel environment and analyzing how the birds respond. This is similar to humans’ individual behavior differences that remain consistent over long periods of time and throughout various situations. The bolder great tits were more likely to actively explore their new surroundings while the shier birds were more inhibited.
“This novel research finding may also help explain the evolution of personality and why individuals in a population differ in their behavior,” says Johnson. “Rather than one particular personality type being favored by natural selection as ‘the best,’ different behavioral strategies may be equally good depending on who you choose to be your friends and neighbors.”
The researchers suggest that by nesting closer to birds with similar personality traits, the birds’ chances for survival increase. Having aggressive neighbors could result in more fights between the males, but they may be able to come together to defend their nesting area from intruders.
This study was published in the journal Animal Behaviour.