Swans give up rest time to fight for the best feeding spots, new research shows.
Scientists have studied the behavior of mute and whooper swans, to see how they use their time and energy.
By looking at four key behaviors – aggression, foraging, grooming (preening, cleaning and oiling feathers), and resting – they found a “compromise” between aggression and resting, meaning that ‘”increased aggressiveness is obtained at the expense of rest”.
The study, led by the University of Exeter and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), could help nature reserve managers design habitats that reduce the need for aggression.
“These swans use aggression if there is competition over feeding areas,” said Dr Paul Rose, from the University of Exeter and WWT.
“Our findings show that this requires a trade-off and that both species reduce resting time to allow for this aggression.
“This was the largest trade-off we found, but there was also a trade-off for both species between foraging and resting.
“However, there was no apparent trade-off between certain behaviors, such as aggression and foraging, and aggression and maintenance.”
The swans were observed via a live webcam at WWT Caerlaverock Nature Reserve in Scotland.
Whooper swans are migratory and those observed in the study spend their winters in Caerlaverock.
Mute swans live there all year round, and Dr Rose said this means they can be more “flexible” in their behavior as they don’t share whooper swans’ urgent need to store fat before migration .
“By providing enough feeding points for birds, we can reduce the need for aggression around desirable feeding points, giving them more time to rest,” Dr Rose said.
“This can help ensure that migratory species don’t ‘push’ non-migratory species when they mix in the same wintering grounds.
“Our study also demonstrates how data collected remotely can be used to investigate fundamental questions in behavioral research.”
Dr Kevin Wood from WWT said: “At WWT we get a lot of questions from our visitors about swan aggression.
“This new study helps us understand how the behavior of swans changes when they engage in their arguments.”
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