Functional aspects of the pair bond in winter in Bewick's swans (Cygnus columbianus bewickii)
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The benefits to partners of monogamous pairs of maintaining continual spatial proximity in the non-breeding season were studied in Bewick's swans wintering in Norfolk, UK.
When separated from their mates, females were less successful in aggressive encounters, were threatened more frequently and spent less time feeding than when close to them. Males also suffered reduced success in encounters and a higher frequency of threats by other flock members, though the effect was less pronounced than for females. This sex difference in effect of separation may be associated with the greater weight of males and the fact that success in encounters is related to weight.
Partners appeared to assist each other by joining in aggressive encounters, as well as by ‘inhibiting’ other birds from threatening their mates. However, the precise manner in which the female assisted the male is still obscure, since the highest intensity aggressive encounters — physical fights — involved only male partners. It is suggested that the male may fight harder in his mate's presence.
Proximity of partners varied with situation and between different pairs. Partners maintained greater proximity in dense flocks than in dispersed flocks and showed a tendency to stay closer when feeding on winter wheat than on waste potatoes. Partners where the male was high-ranking spent more time together than those where the male was low-ranking.
KeywordsHigh Intensity Winter Wheat Male Partner Great Weight Functional Aspect
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