Saturday, June 24, 2023

Phalarope Feeding Behavior

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Behavior, Nature, Wildlife, Biological Evolution. Biodiversity

Ed Hessler

More than one field season for scientists in many disciplines was suspended because of the coronavirus. However, for some researchers, this provided an opportunity to carefully analyze stored research video from the field.

As Margaret Rubega notes (not involved in the research or its publication),many birders have seen phalaropes "spinning like demented wind-toys. Why do they do this?"

Writing for Science's news section, Erica Tennenhouse begins with a short summary. "Rare shorebirds called phalaropes practice an unusual water dance to help them consume their prey: They spin in tight, quick circles on the water by kicking one foot harder than the other, creating upward jets that pump tiny, out-of-reach insects and crustaceans toward the surface. The birds then dip their bills into the upwelling and feed at high speed. Now, a research team finds that these dizzying birds choose neighbors that spin in the same direction. The cliquishness of right-footed and left-footed birds helps keep the peace within a flock as phalaropes scarf down food, the team suggests." (italics added).

Tennenhouse describes the research leading to this conclusion. She closes with a rule of thumb phalaropes follow according to co-authors Jorge Gutierrez and Andrea Sorian-Redondo: "'Choose neighbors who spin in the same direction as me.' That rule could be adaptive, they say, as it helps the birds eat without interruption. And in fact, feeding phalaropes can peck up to 180 times per minute, faster than any other bird." (italics added)

The very short video (07 s) is found at the top of the link to Tennenhouse's reporting.

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