Dominant birds stay leaner than their subordinates, study finds

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Legend says that the early bird gets the worm, but research suggests that the bird that dines just before going to bed has the real advantage.

A new study has found that socially dominant birds are generally leaner than their subordinate peers of the same species, probably because they can eat when they want and don't face as great a risk of starvation.

Dominant birds stay lean during the day and then pack on the fat just when they need it most - before a chilly winter night. Staying lean helps birds stay more maneuverable during attacks by predators. Lean birds also have more time during the day to watch for predators, rather than spending the bulk of their time looking for food.

Natural selection would like to keep a bird as thin as possible, but also have enough fat to get through the night," said Thomas Grubb, a co-author of the study and professor of evolution, ecology and organismal biology at Ohio State University.

By eating late, dominant birds can reduce their risk of predation without increasing their risk of starvation." The research appears in a recent issue of the journal The Condor.

Subordinate birds have a less predictable food supply during the day because they must look for food in places that dominant birds wouldn't normally bother with, according to Grubb. Also, dominants can displace subordinates from food.

"It seems that subordinate birds must carry more fat during

Contact: Thomas Grubb
Ohio State University

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