Parent-offspring aggression in moorhens

Common Gallinule (Gallinula chloropus) Science Article 2


The purpose of this study was to explain parental aggression to offspring in the moorhen (Gallinula chloropus). Males and females did not feed different subsets of chicks. In addition, there was a positive correlation between feeding rates of each parent to a particular chick and the number of attacks (tousles) directed to that chick, contrary to what was expected if aggression served to divide the brood. In moorhens, large chicks outcompeted small chicks for parental feedings. However, adults were more aggressive to large chicks and as a result small chicks spent significantly more time closer to parents and received more feedings than large chicks. In 84% of broods every chick was attacked at least once, although large chicks were attacked more often than small chicks. The behaviour of chicks changed immediately after an attack (Table 2). Before an attack chicks were <1 m from the parents while after an attack they were >1 m. The apparent effect of parental aggression in moorhens is to reduce demands by chicks for feedings. Aggression appears to reduce sibling competition and to encourage chick independence.

M.L. Leonard, A.G. Horn, and S.F. Eden, Behav Ecol Sociobiol (1988) 23:265-270

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