Pelicans in captivity who are free to choose their own friendships are more likely to breed successfully on repeated occasions, new research suggests.
A social media analysis of captive Great White Pelicans, conducted by the University of Exeter, found that providing social choice within the herd and allowing for the formation of partnerships naturally led to improved success. of reproduction.
The study found that pelicans chose their specific social relationships, and that there was a social structure throughout the herd, in which sub-adults (the equivalent of adolescents) spent more time with each other than they did. with adult birds.
Pelicans housed in a zoo are common, but their breeding history is poor and they receive little research attention, compared to other popular zoo birds such as penguins.
As great white pelicans live long lives and are difficult to breed in captivity, they must be managed with care.
The team – from the University of Exeter, Sparsholt University Center and Reaseheath College – collected data at Blackpool Zoo on behavior, space use and association preferences around events in nesting of great white pelicans in 2016 and 2017.
“Evaluating space use and behavior to ensure pelicans have the choice to behave the way they want is critical to good animal welfare,” said lead author, the Dr Paul Rose, University of Exeter and WWT Slimbridge Wetland Center.
“Social media analysis allows us to identify the strongest bonds and find out who is influential in the herd. Therefore, we can determine which birds could initiate reproduction and encourage this activity in others.
“It’s important for herd management. If birds are to be moved between flocks, we must preserve these important bonds and the experience they provide.
“Besides the good care the birds receive from the zoo staff, this experience of what to do and when to do it is probably the reason why the flock we analyzed successfully nested on several occasions.”
The research team also identified specific behavioral cues that could tell pelican breeders when breeding is likely to take place.
For example, data collected before pelicans began to nest showed that the herd was more vigilant during this time, suggesting that vigilance may be a precursor to courtship or nesting.
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