The secret life of birds 

(l-r) Dr Masaoki Takagi and Professor Keisuke Ueda with nest of Grey-crowned Babbler at Coomalie Farm, near Batchelor

(l-r) Associate Professor Eguchi and Professor Keisuke Ueda inspect a dormitory nest of Grey-crowned Babbler at Coomalie Farm

The social, mating and nesting behaviour of birds in the Top End’s savannas country are under the spotlight as part of a joint research project between Charles Darwin University (CDU) and Japanese biologists.

A Memorandum of Academic Cooperation (MAC) has been signed between CDU Faculty of Education, Health and Science and the Faculty of Science at Kyushu University in Japan to formally recognize the ongoing collaboration.

The research is being led by Assistant Professor Kazuhiro Eguchi of Kyushu’s Department of Biology and Dr Richard Noske of CDU’s School of Science and Primary Industries.

Australia is famous in the ornithological world for its avian ‘co-operative breeders’ – species that live in extended families, in which most sons and daughters choose to stay at ‘home’ with their parents and help them to raise their siblings rather than find a new ‘home’ and partner.

These birds have been extensively studied in southern Australia, where the relatively mild year round climate ensures an all-year round food supply, and a long life span means there is no rush to leave home and reproduce.

However, the same behaviour can also be found in some species in the Top End , where rainfall is very seasonal and fires often ravage the landscape prior to and during the breeding season. One example is the Grey-crowned Babbler, in which unassisted couples are incapable of reproducing successfully, so they have up to six helpers.

The research by Dr Richard Noske and Assistant Professor Kazuhiro Eguchi is the first to investigate how rainfall seasonality and fire affect the social dynamics and helping behaviour of tropical cooperative breeders.

Preliminary results from this collaborative research were presented at the Birds Australia Members Day symposium held at CDU on 27 May 2006.

Founded in 1911, Kyushu University is located in Fukuoka and is one of Japan’s major national universities. It has 18,000 students including 1,100 overseas students with a Department of Biology that comprises 12 laboratories, 89 Graduate School students and 238 undergraduates.