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Eurasian Siskin

For a number of years the sociability of large birds such as swans, geese and members of the crow family has been studied and is well understood by scientists.

However, until now, these stable, long-lasting bonds had not been observed in smaller birds. But a recent study published in Bird Study has revealed that Eurasian siskins (Carduelis spinus) have a tendency to travel long distances in groups over the course of several years.

Researchers from the Natural Sciences Museum of Barcelona who led the study had previously discovered that female Eurasian siskins in captivity prefer to mate with males they know but they needed to prove that these birds, when in their natural habitats, live together for periods of time that are long enough for them to interact and get to know each other.

Dr. Juan Carlos Senar, from the museum’s Group of Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology and lead author of the paper, said, “In this study we show how the Eurasian siskin is able to form stable group relationships lasting for periods of several years in addition to travelling in each other' company over distances spanning more than 1,000 km.”

The team examined data from the European Union for Bird Ringing (EURING), which is the European institution responsible for banding and tracking birds, that recorded over 42,000 Eurasian siskins between 1907 and 2011.

For accuracy the scientists limited their study to those birds that had travelled distances greater than 50 km from the place they had been banded which is the distance that exceeds the number of kilometres Eurasian siskins tend to travel in a single day.

The findings demonstrated that siskins can remain together in the same group for up to four years and that they can travel with other individuals for distances up toe 1,300 km. The records shoed that they could either be single-sex or mixed-sex groups.

Dr. Senar explained, “What is important is that several groups of individuals were detected travelling together for hundreds of kilometres, and that these groups included both males with females (possible partners), as well as single-sex groups, thus implying that these bonds are not only formed between mating partners, but that they can also form between groups of friends with social ties."

Until now, some studies had confirmed a marked sociability in small birds such as the pine siskin (Carduelis pinus) and the common redpoll (Acanthis flammea). However, these studies had been conducted over the course of one winter so the data corresponded to relatively short travel distances and a period of time of only a few months.

Dr. Senar and his team wanted to replicate these results in the Eurasian siskin by studying the journeys made during the entire biological period and throughout the lifetime of an individual.

He added, "This study conducted on the Eurasian siskin also carries the added importance of the fact that this species, unlike the European goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) or the European greenfinch (Carduelis chloris), is nomadic, meaning that these specimens fly to a different destination each year," indicates the scientist.

What this means if that two individual birds are recaptured together hundreds of kilometres from where they were originally captured this is not because both were going to independently spend the winter in the same place and coincidentally happened to bet there, but rather, they would have purposely travelled together.

The study also revealed that these individuals prefer to mate with others that they are familiar with, something that may be an important mechanism to help them adjust to new places. For this to be possible, these small birds must interact with each other long periods of time which is not just a characteristic of large birds as previously thought.

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