Birds Can Camouflage Based on Individual Appearance

Animals lower down on the food chain rely on camouflage to conceal themselves from predators.

It was previously thought that animals simply chose a hiding place according to instinct, but recent research suggest that certain species may be able to select a spot based on their own individual appearance.

Scientists from Exeter and Cambridge universities have discovered that individual wild birds adjust their choices of where to nest based on their specific patterns and colours. The study looked at nine birds that are particularly hard to spot once they’re hidden.

“Each individual bird looks a little bit different, and we have shown that they can act individually,” said project co-leader Professor Martin Stevens, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

“Individual birds consistently sit in places that enhance their own unique markings, both within a habitat, and at a fine scale with regards to specific background sites.”

It’s not yet clear how this decision is made, but it appears as if the birds actually know what they look like and where they’d best blend in.

“They may look at themselves, their eggs and the background and judge whether it’s a good place to nest, or learn over time about what kinds of places their eggs escape being eaten.”

Project co-leader Professor Claire Spottiswoode, of the University of Cape Town and the University of Cambridge, added: “We tend to think about camouflage as something that involves gradual evolutionary change in appearance — we don’t often think of it as a matter of individual animal behaviour. This research helps us understand how behaviour and appearance are linked.

“These findings were made possible by the amazing field skills of our team of nest-finders from the local community in Zambia, who found hundreds of beautifully camouflaged nests.”

If you’re in the mood for some birding, have a look at our list of the best spots in South Africa.

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