You Big Bully


Every now and then a survey or scientific study arrives in our mailbox that requires a comment. This is one of those times.

A new study has determined that birds that are abused during the maturation stage are very likely to become bullies as adults, similar to studies done relating to humans. (I can only hope my brother reads this study.)

Off the coast of Ecuador, on the Galapagos Islands, seabirds known as Nazca boobies live in colonies. Observations have shown that adults often beat up on their neighbors’ young. This new research has ascertained that these bullied nestlings turn into domineering, harassing adults.“We were very surprised by the intense interest that many adults show in unrelated young, involving really rough treatment,” study researcher Dave Anderson, a Wake Forest University biologist, said in a statement. “A bird’s history as a target of abuse proved to be a strong predictor of its adult behavior.”

The mostly female bullies scout around the breeding colonies, waiting for parents to leave their offspring as the search for food begins. Then the adults pounce on the young birds, biting, pecking and even making sexual advances. The article continues that: “The young are often left stressed and bleeding three breeding seasons, as nestlings grew up and returned to their birthplace to lay their own eggs.”

It continues to say: “The finding that abused Nazca babies become victimizers later on is eerily similar to what social scientists have learned about the cycle of abuse in humans. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about 30 percent of abused and neglected children will grow up to victimize their own children.”

According to a recent study by another Wake Forest researcher, doctoral student Jacquelyn Grace, many scientists believe that this cycle may have the same root in both birds and humans due to the fact that stress hormones surge after bird abuse. “It’s fascinating that what many would consider an extremely complex human phenomenon is also occurring – perhaps through the same physiological mechanism – in Nazca boobies, which are more closely related to crocodiles than mammals,” Grace said in a statement. “Both studies suggest Nazca boobies might be a good model system to begin understanding the mechanisms underlying the cycle of violence in humans.”

The next time you see bird activity at your bird feeders, consider what you are seeing. Is there bullying going on or is it dominance? What is the difference? Perhaps choosing a different bird feeder will help the situation by diffusing the stress associated with mobbing. If you have more than 4 feeders on a single pole, you may be adding to the commotion.

Enjoy your birds.

Wild Bird Depot is located on Rt 11 in Gilford, NH. Steve is a contributing author in major publications, a guest lecturer at major conventions in Atlanta and St. Louis as well as the host of WEZS 1350AM radio show “Bird Calls” with Lakes Region Newsday @ 8:30AM. Wild Bird Depot has donated over $5,000 to local rehabilitators and local nature centers since 1996. Be sure to check out our blog “Bird Droppings” via our website Like us on Facebook for great contests and prizes.