Owl Clean

Two nine-weeks old owls in a field of grass

You scratch my back, I’ll…give you a MOUSE!?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

We pay a hairdresser to cut our hair, and we aren’t alone! LOTS of animals trade valuables for grooming. What about owls? Younger owls will clean their older siblings’ hard to reach places. And older owl siblings will sometimes share their food with the young’uns. But is there a connection?

Pauline Ducouret and colleagues from the University of Lausanne in Switzerland wondered.

The researchers watched almost thirty nests with baby barn owls for two days. One day, they would just observe the birds’ natural behavior. On the next, they provided the nests with extra food.

What happened when there was more to go around? Instead of a free-for-OWL, they noticed something different. Older babies would share the extra food with the younger sibling that groomed them! This ONLY happened when there was surplus snackage.

This finding is the first to show cooperation among bird siblings!

Ha! What would happen if human siblings were that cooperative? Whoooooo knows?

Reference: Ducouret, P., Romano, A., Dreiss, A. N., Marmaroli, P., Falourd, X., Bincteux, M., & Roulin, A. (2020). Elder Barn Owl Nestlings Flexibly Redistribute Parental Food according to Siblings’ Need or in Return for Allopreening. The American Naturalist, 196(2), 257–269. https://doi.org/10.1086/709106