Royal Society Publishing

Helping is Costly to Young Birds in Cooperatively Breeding White-Winged Choughs

Robert Heinsohn, Andrew Cockburn


Cooperative breeding among birds is at its most extreme in white-winged choughs (Corcorax melanorhamphos). Choughs have never been observed to breed successfully without helpers, and reproductive success increases linearly across all group sizes (maximum = 16). Further, helpers contribute to every aspect of reproduction, including nest building and incubation. Here we show that the contribution of young helpers (one year old and less) to incubation depends on the group in which they live. In small groups (3-5 birds), young helpers contribute as much to incubation as older birds, but in large groups they contribute little. In large groups, help increases sharply with age. Old birds contribute equally, regardless of group size. Although choughs generally do not lose body mass over incubation, young helpers lose mass in proportion to the amount of incubation they perform, independent of any effect of group size. This provides evidence that helpers in cooperatively breeding birds suffer costs from providing help additional to the costs incurred from remaining philopatric. It also demonstrates that the needs of the group influence whether young birds provide help.

Royal Society Login

Log in through your institution