Christmas is impossibly close and the time of year when it is better to give than receive. For many of us, spending a lot on someone else may be difficult. It also goes against the human personality to achieve this platitude. It’s equally challenging in the bird world.
From a Darwinian perspective, altruism in nature is bizarre. Natural selection leads us to expect birds to behave in ways that increase their own chances of survival and reproduction, not those of others.
Surprisingly, there is some rich history and behaviors in the study of the evolution of cooperation. The most revered names in biology have debated this question. In natural science, using the terms as described by a previous scientist is confirming their point of view. Konrad Lorenz and William Hamilton, the top evolutionary theorist of the 1960s, both believed that behaviors “for the good of the species” would be achieved by natural selection.
It seems like a duty no bird would want. The head of a V-shaped flock works the hardest, fighting strong air currents while others keep their energy expenditure low by traveling in his wake. Canada geese, double-crested cormorants, many migrating ducks and swans fly in V-formations. So, why would any bird volunteer to be in front?
To find out why birds meet the challenge of flying wing tip to wing tip, in a certain configuration, scientists observed a flock of 14 juvenile ibises, which had GPS data loggers attached to their bodies. Researchers guided them by ultralight plane from Austria, where they’d been hand raised, to Italy on a fall migration (Science Magazine: Brain & Behavior in the Animal World, February 2015).
The researchers’ results showed that the birds worked cooperatively, considerately, taking turns to lead and follow.
The biological study of altruism, however, is plagued by much confusion and debate about terms such as “cooperation” and “reciprocity.”