Birds of a feather

Academics love nothing better than a good conference. A chance to meet up with old friends, hear the latest gossip and tell anyone who will listen something they know that nobody else does.

Of course it is just a coincidence that conferences on a Greek island or on the Turkish coast in early summer are especially popular.

I guess most people’s idea of a scientist is someone who spends long hours in the lab (true), is obsessive about something difficult to explain (true) and prefers to be alone with their thoughts (occasionally true). The fact of the matter is that we need to listen to one another, exchange ideas and actually learn from one another.

It is often thought that large groups of roosting birds like the corbeau get together to share information about food sources in a similar way that groups of people get together to enjoy one another’s company and share their knowledge. This rather altruistic idea was sadly disproved by researchers at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland in 1991, who identified individual birds at a nearby food source on subsequent days. They discovered that the increasing number of birds frequenting the food source following night time roosts was simply due to more birds finding the food source themselves and returning to it.

But perhaps this still shows the similarities between inventive humans and corveau. If you come across a fascinating new idea at a conference the best thing to do is to get up early the next morning and exploit it yourself!

You can find the altruistic crow hypothesis exploded in the journal Animal Behaviour.