I’ll Scratch Your Back if…

African Spoonbill and Sacred Ibis

African Spoonbill and Sacred Ibis

I’m finally starting to go through all my pictures from the East African safari and instead of feeling overwhelmed, I’m enjoying the process. I’m also surprised at how many species I still remember. Two weeks in Central Standard Time has not totally wiped away the experience.

Allopreening in birds has always fascinated me. I’m sure it’s related to grooming in primates, which I think some propose led to the human behaviors of smiling, laughing and talking. It’s definitely a social, bonding function.

For instance I have two surviving healthy budgies who would never have had anything to do with each other until it became apparent to both of them that they were It, and in addition to keeping each other company, they now engage in allopreening more and more, and it’s lovely to see.

African Spoonbill

African Spoonbill

On the second day in Tanzania when we stopped to look at some shorebirds, spoonbills, ibises and herons, I could not help but notice an unusual instance of interspecies allopreening, namely a Sacred Ibis preening a bent-over African Spoonbill. I don’t know if I pay more attention to this kind of behavior because I live with birds, but I suspect that might be why it came up on my radar.

Sacred Ibis Preening African Spoonbill

Sacred Ibis Preening African Spoonbill

This is an extraordinary amount of cooperation, and I only have to wonder what precipitated it…that silent, unspoken world of communication that birds are so much better at than we are.

Sacred Ibis Preening Spoonbill-4537.jpg-4537

It then occurred to me that I could also get a video clip, and so there is a short one below.

It’s obvious that the bird being preened is getting a lot out of this, but there has to be something in it for the preener too. It seems almost more enjoyable for the bird doing the preening. Maybe in another life he was a hair stylist. “You have such beautiful white feathers. Let me straighten them out for you.”

4 thoughts on “I’ll Scratch Your Back if…

  1. Fascinating video. I wonder if anything like this happens with different species of primates. Of course I guess you could point to all the grooming that people do of dogs, cats, horses, etc! But that is not necessarily a mutually consensual activity.

    • Funny, isn’t it. I don’t know though, I used to groom horses and I think after a while you get into giving them a pleasurable touch…like petting your dog or your cat, maybe? Maybe with birds it’s the beginning of a hybrid relationship… Not to suggest people and horses or dogs and cats, though! 🙂

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