Do fledglings choose wisely? An experimental investigation into social foraging behaviour
Many cooperative bird species have an extended period of post-fledging care. Despite the fact that this period of care can last up to several months, it remains a relatively understudied stage of chick development. This period, when young are actively begging but highly mobile, provides an opportunity for young to maximise the amount of care they receive by selectively choosing particular adults to beg from. In pied babblers Turdoides bicolor (a cooperatively breeding passerine), fledglings closely follow foraging adults and beg for food regularly (a behavioural interaction termed social foraging). Using a combination of natural observations and experimental manipulations, we found that fledgling pied babblers preferentially socially forage with adult care-givers who have high foraging success, since this results in young receiving more food. By supplementally feeding adults to artificially increase their foraging success, we increased the proportion of time that fledglings chose to socially forage with them, confirming that fledglings are selectively choosing dyadic interactions with the best adult foragers. These results indicate that pied babbler fledglings are sensitive to and can respond to short-term changes in adult foraging success, enabling them to maximize their nutritional intake, a behavioural adjustment that has long-term benefits in this system.