Birds Perpetuate Cycles of Violence

A study of Nazca boobies from the Galapagos Islands shows that birds that are abused by adult birds as chicks will grow up to abuse other chicks, to no obvious advantage to themselves (maybe less competition for their own chicks?). This is similar to the phenomenon of abused human children being more likely to be abusive in adulthood, and shows that this phenomenon is not so complex that it doesn’t occur in simpler animals.

From Live Science:

Adult Nazca boobies, seabirds that live in colonies on the Galapagos Islands, often beat up on their neighbors’ young. The new research finds these bullied nestlings turn into bullies as adults…

The bird bullies — mostly female — patrol the breeding colonies, waiting for parents to leave their offspring to go forage. Then the adults pounce on the young birds, biting, pecking and even making sexual advances. The young are often left stressed and bleeding…

The finding that abused Nazca babies become victimizers later on is eerily similar to what social scientists have learned about the cycle of abuse in humans. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about 30 percent of abused and neglected children will grow up to victimize their own children.

Researchers even believe that this cycle may have the same root in both birds and humans: Stress hormones surge after bird abuse, according to a recent study by another Wake Forest researcher, doctoral student Jacquelyn Grace.

“It’s fascinating that what many would consider an extremely complex human phenomenon is also occurring — perhaps through the same physiological mechanism — in Nazca boobies, which are more closely related to crocodiles than mammals,” Grace said in a statement. “Both studies suggest Nazca boobies might be a good model system to begin understanding the mechanisms underlying the cycle of violence in humans.”

Man… birds can be jerks. To be fair though, they’re comparing adult birds abusing unrelated chicks to humans abusing their own children. One would seem to be more evolutionarily advantageous than the other, so it’s probably safe to say that the human phenomenon does indeed have its own unique complexities not captured in the bird model. 

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