Wild bird caught on camera gesturing ‘after you’ with wings | National News

By James Gamble via SWNS

A very polite small Japanese bird gestures with its wings to mates to convey the message “after you” to mates.

Researchers that discovered the Japanese tit flutters its wings to politely indicate for a mate to enter a nest box first.

However, the birds differ slightly from humans in that it’s usually the female birds that make the gesture towards arriving males – meaning the adage of ‘ladies first’ does not apply.

Researchers from the University of Tokyo observed the birds on hundreds of occasions to conduct their study, published in the journal Current Biology.

The discovery challenges the previously held belief that only humans and humans use gestures to communicate and could also help us understand the evolution of our own language.

Gestures are an integral part of how we humans communicate with one another – whether it be a thumbs up, a wave goodbye or even something more sinister such as a middle finger.

Such gestures were once thought to be used solely by humans until closer observation of great apes such as chimpanzees and bonobos revealed that they too communicate non-verbally with their bodies.

More recently, studies of other animals such as ravens and fish show that they also use some simple gestures to point out objects or show something of interest, called deictic gesturing.

Wild bird caught on camera gesturing “after you” with wings

The wild bird caught doing the gesture. (Suzuki and Sugita via SWNS)

But symbolic gestures, such as showing an open hand to signal ‘after you’ require complex cognitive skills, and there was previously no conclusive evidence supporting the existence of such abilities in animals other than humans.

This is why the researchers from the University of Tokyo were so surprised to find clear evidence of such symbolic gesturing in the Japanese tit (Parus minor).

“In our latest discovery, we revealed that the Japanese tit uses gestures to communicate with their mate,” Associate Professor Toshitaka Suzuki said.

“For over 17 years, I have been engaged in the study of these fascinating birds.

“They not only use specific calls to convey particular meanings, but also combine different calls into phrases using syntactic rules.

“These diverse vocalizations led me to initiate this research into their potential use of physical gestures.”

In spring, Japanese tits form mating pairs and build their nests inside tree cavities with small entrances.

When feeding their nestlings, the birds enter the nest one at a time.

The researchers observed the behavior of eight pairs of birds breeding in nest boxes and noticed that when carrying food back to the nest, the tits would often find a perch nearby before entering and one would flutter their wings toward the other.

After analyzing more than 320 nest visits in detail, the research team saw that the wing-fluttering display prompted the bird being fluttered at to enter the nest box first, while the one doing the fluttering entered second.

The researchers said this determined the order of nest entry and mirrored the ‘after you’ gesture used by humans.

“We were surprised to find that the results were much clearer than we had expected,” Professor Suzuki explained.

“We observed that Japanese tits flutter their wings exclusively in the presence of their mate, and upon witnessing this behavior, the mate almost always entered the nest box first.”

Wild bird caught on camera gesturing “after you” with wings

The wild bird caught doing the gesture. (Suzuki and Sugita via SWNS)

The researchers also found that the gesture was more frequently performed by female birds, after which the male bird usually entered the nest box regardless of which had arrived first – meaning the tits don’t appear to subscribe to the age-old human adage of ‘ ladies first’.

If the female doesn’t flutter her wings, she usually enters the nest box before the male.

The researchers believe this behavior fulfills the criteria to be classified as a symbolic gesture as they only saw it occur in the presence of a mate, it stopped after the mate entered the nest box and it encouraged the mate to enter the nest box without any physical contact.

They also noted that the wing-fluttering ‘after you’ gesture was aimed at the mate and not the nest box, meaning it wasn’t used as a deictic gesture to indicate something of interest.

Professor Suzuki added that his team’s findings were not only crucial to deciphering animal languages ​​but could also help us understand the evolution of our own language.

“There is a hypothesis that walking on two legs allowed humans to maintain an upright posture, freeing up their hands for greater mobility, which in turn contributed to the evolution of gestures,” he said.

“Similarly, when birds perch on branches, their wings become free, which we think may facilitate the development of gestural communication.

“We will continue to decipher what birds are talking about through gestures, vocalizations and their combinations.

“This endeavor not only enables us to uncover the rich world of animal languages, but also serves as a crucial key to unraveling the origins and evolution of our own language.”

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