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Socialisation Tactics of the Spectacled Parrotlet (Forpus Conspicillatus)

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Spectacled parrotlets live in a complex system of individual relationships throughout their lives. The adults form exclusive pair bonds, addressing all friendly and sexual behaviour patterns to each other. Pair mates cooperate in agonistic situations. As long as they stay close together they hold the same rank-order position. In mate-choice experiments females (not males) significantly preferred a mate which formerly held a high social position. There are also non-exclusive pair bonds, which are far less stable than exclusive ones. Only exclusive pairs have a good chance to occupy a breeding cavity. All group members are synchronized in many of their activities, such as foraging, preening or resting. They are keenly interested in unusual activities of other group members. Social learning, including copying sexual techniques, seems to be essential. After fledging the parents keep their offspring at a distance from a very early stage. Instead of a close parent-offspring relationship the fledglings form sibling groups with their nest mates. Over a period of months siblings remain the main interaction partners for all friendly and playful activities. They also support one another in agonistic situations. In the first months of life even courtship feeding and sexual behaviour are addressed predominantly to siblings. Thus a pair-like relationship is established between siblings, anticipating the permanent pair bond of adults. Single fledglings, deprived of the experience of a sibling group, remained poorly integrated into the group. They developed alternative socialisation tactics, namely (1) joining a host group of unrelated siblings, (2) renewing a friendly partnership with the parents, (3) helping to protect and feed younger siblings or even unrelated fledglings and (4) seeking early partnership with unrelated group members. Out of 10 single fledglings only the one that was accepted by a host sibling group immediately after fledging became well integrated into the whole group and reproduced well. It is argued that sibling groups offer good opportunities for learning partnership and function as a safe basis for exploring the social environment. It is tentatively proposed that single fledglings have a decreased probability of reproductive success.

Affiliations: 1: (Zoologisches Institut und Zoologisches Museum der Universität, Arbeitsbereich Ethologie, Martin-Luther-King-Platz 3, D-2000 Hamburg 13, Germany

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