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The research team was trying to study the movement and social dynamics of magpies, a highly intelligent species that live in groups and cooperate to defend their territory. To do so, the team used a set of lightweight and sophisticated tracking devices to monitor one group.
The tracking devices were designed to be difficult to remove and needed a magnet or strong scissors to do so.
Enter bird bills: Only 10 minutes after fitting the final tracker, scientists noticed that one of the adult females used her bill to remove the tracker harness from a younger bird.
A few hours later, most of the trackers were gone. The final one disappeared by day three.
The authors aren’t clear how the birds helped each other get free of the trackers but said this marks the first instance of “altruism” in magpies.
They explained that the avians see the trackers as parasites that need to be removed and therefore were “rescuing” others by removing the devices.
The team said such behavior has only been seen in a group of Seychelles warblers freeing one another from sticky Pisonia seed clusters.