Paying attention to camouflage

Ida Bailey
Thursday 21 May 2015

That birds’ build camouflaged nests is well known, but whether this results from birds paying attention to the characteristics of their nest site and trying to find building material to match or simply from birds building with locally available materials that just happen to be camouflaged, had never been tested.

We wallpapered male zebra finches’ cages in one of five different colours and them gave them two colours of building material, one that matched the wall paper and one that did not. Most of the birds predominantly chose the colour of building material that matched the wallpaper indicating that birds pay attention to the colour of their nest sites and actively chose building material to match. This means that some of the variation we see within species in the wild in what materials they choose to build with may be due to individuals actively selecting locally camouflaged materials rather than just building a ‘standard’ nest and ‘hoping’ that it will be hard for predators to spot.

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Examples of camouflaged nests built in our experiment

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