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a chart comparing territory quality versus status of deposed females.
Quality of Territory Previously Inhabited by Deposed Female Warblers Values of territory quality were derived from logistic regression analyses and normalized by log transformation. Ousted females that chose to become subordinates usually lived in territories of higher quality than those that chose to become floaters (Adapted from Richardson et al. 2007).


Cooperative breeding is driven by a variety of ecological factors, specific to the circumstances of the species in question. Some adult birds choose to become helpers in an effort to secure food and settling sites when resources are scarce. Others resort to helping behavior because their own personal attempts at reproduction have failed or they have lost their breeding status, and helping is the next best opportunity to pass on their genes, albeit indirectly. In each case, the cooperative breeding phenomenon appears to benefit either the helpers, the parents, or the chicks, creating a beneficial situation for the individuals involved.

Why Cooperative Breeders Choose to Become Helpers
Cooperative Breeder Reason for Helping
Azure-Winged Magpie Lack of available resources
Micronesian Kingfisher Access to ideal nesting sites and food
Brown-Headed Nuthatch Personal breeding failure
Seychelles Warbler (Grandparents) Best opportunity to pass on genes

Discussion questions

  1. Is cooperative breeding actually altruistic behavior? In what situations might it be entirely altruistic, and in what situations does the helper have an “ulterior motive”?
  2. While many birds do engage in cooperative breeding, many do not. What are the conditions that likely differentiate these species in terms of environmental factors, predation risks, and breeding patterns?


  • Altruism - helpful behavior that directly increases the fitness of the recipient at the expense of decreasing the fitness of the actor
  • Alloparent - offspring care-giver that is not a direct parent
  • Cooperative breeding - social system where individuals that are not the direct parents of the offspring play an active role in nurturing and caring for offspring
  • Direct fitness - genes are contributed to the next generation through personal reproduction, in the form of descendent offspring
  • Dominant pair - direct genetic parents of offspring
  • Floater - bird with no territory or permanent residence
  • Hamilton’s Rule - gene frequency should increase in interactions where rB>C , where r is the genetic relatedness of individuals, B is reproductive benefit gained by the recipient, and C represents the reproductive cost to the alloparent
  • Indirect fitness - genes are indirectly contributed to the next generation by helping non-directly related offspring in the form of relatives that would not have survived otherwise
  • Kin selection - form of natural selection that occurs when individuals alter their behavior to favorably affect genetically related individuals
  • Nondescendent kin - young progeny that are not direct offspring


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Questions & Answers

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Source:  OpenStax, Mockingbird tales: readings in animal behavior. OpenStax CNX. Jan 12, 2011 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11211/1.5
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