Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 61, Issue 2, pp 221–230 | Cite as

Dual function of allopreening in the cooperatively breeding green woodhoopoe, Phoeniculus purpureus

  • Andrew N. RadfordEmail author
  • Morné A. Du Plessis
Original Article


Allopreening is a widespread but little-studied phenomenon in birds and is particularly prevalent in species where individuals are forced into close proximity. Such a situation facilitates the transfer of ectoparasites between individuals and allopreening has therefore been proposed to serve a hygienic function. In addition, allopreening might theoretically play a role in social communication. Green woodhoopoes (Phoeniculus purpureus) are cooperatively breeding birds that roost communally every night in a tree cavity and are thus susceptible to high ectoparasite loads. Our results suggest that allopreening of the head and neck (“head”), which cannot be efficiently self-preened, serves a primarily hygienic function: all individuals, irrespective of sex, dominance status, and group size, donated and received similar rates of head allopreening and terminated a similar proportion of bouts in which they were involved. Furthermore, there was a high occurrence of reciprocation and head allopreening occurred at a constant rate throughout the year. In contrast, allopreening of the rest of the body, which is accessible to the recipient itself, is likely to serve a primarily social function: body allopreening rates were higher in larger groups; dominant individuals received more body allopreening and terminated a significantly higher proportion of bouts than subordinates; and subordinates donated body allopreening at a higher rate than dominants. Moreover, bouts initiated by dominants were more likely to be reciprocated than those initiated by subordinates and body allopreening rates varied seasonally. Allopreening in the green woodhoopoe is therefore likely to serve a dual function, depending on the part of the body involved.


Allopreening Ectoparasites Hygienic function Green woodhoopoes Social communication Reciprocation 



We thank Frank, Shaun and Vernon Cockin, Bill Dutton, Willem Fourie, and Mike Putzier for unlimited access to their land. We are grateful to Tim Fawcett, Sarah Hodge, Andy Young, S.O. Baldrick and an anonymous referee for helpful comments on earlier versions of the manuscript and for invaluable statistical advice. The work was supported by a Natural Environment Research Council studentship and a Junior Research Fellowship from Girton College, Cambridge, awarded to ANR. This study complies with the current laws in the country in which it was conducted.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ZoologyUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK
  2. 2.DST/NRF Centre of Excellence,Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, Department of ZoologyUniversity of Cape TownCape TownSouth Africa

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