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Just add weights to skinny pigeons and they'll stage a coo

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Peer-reviewed: This work was reviewed and scrutinised by relevant independent experts.

In nature, fat pigeons rule the roost, sitting at the pinnacle of pigeon society, and reaping such benefits as extra food and mates. And it's really all about being, or at least feeling, bigger, according to UK and Australian scientists. They found simply attaching weights to skinny, low-ranking pigeons led them to stage a coo, making them more aggressive, and allowing them to move up the pigeon pecking order. The added mass may have made the skinny underdogs feel in better physiological condition, and more willing to pick a fight, say the researchers.

Journal/conference: Biology Letters

Link to research (DOI): 10.1098/rsbl.2020.0468

Organisation/s: Monash University, Royal Holloway University of London, UK

Funder: E.P.S.R.C. and the Wellcome Trust.

Media release

From: The Royal Society

Pecking order - Could feeding the pigeons send their delicate social dynamics askew? Pigeon status is stable and dominated by heavier birds. This UK study found that attaching artificial weights to lighter, subordinate flock members, caused these males to become more aggressive and move up the dominance rankings.

Artificial mass loading disrupts stable social order in pigeon dominance hierarchies

Dominance hierarchies can be found in animal groups, where high-ranking individuals have better access to resources such as food and mates. We found that heavy birds dominated pigeon society, and that these the hierarchy was persistence for 3 years, with those heavier birds always top of the rankings. However, if we took the lightweight individuals from the bottom of the hierarchy and artificially made them heavier, they became from aggressive and shot up the dominance rankings. It’s possible the added mass made them feel in better physiological condition, and more willing, therefore, to pick a fight. 

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