acta ethologica

, Volume 13, Issue 2, pp 87–91 | Cite as

A new material for old solutions—the case of plastic string used in Great Grey Shrike nests

  • Marcin AntczakEmail author
  • Martin Hromada
  • Paweł Czechowski
  • Jacek Tabor
  • Piotr Zabłocki
  • Jerzy Grzybek
  • Piotr Tryjanowski
Original Paper


Innovative behaviours are defined as new behaviour patterns derived by the modification of pre-existing ones. To date, studies of animal innovation have focussed mainly on foraging activity. In this paper, we focussed on the innovative use of a new material—man-made plastic (polypropylene) string—in nest construction by a solitary nesting, territorial species, the Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor. An analysis of field data collected during the years 1999–2006 during intensive shrike research in Poland, as well as of nest record cards since 1964, suggests that plastic string has been a very popular nest material since the 1980s. Recently, plastic string was used significantly more often by shrikes living in intensive farmland habitats than by those in more natural meadows. We discuss the possible benefits of the use of plastic string, such as strengthening the nest structure and therefore helping to protect eggs and nestlings from inclement weather conditions, such as strong winds. On the other hand, the use of plastic string has a real cost for breeding Great Grey Shrikes because both adult birds and nestlings may get tangled in it.


Nest material Animal innovation Costs of innovation Farmland Lanius excubitor Conservation 



During our study on shrikes, many people and organisations supported us. We are very grateful to K. and M. Antczak, as well as PSNP “Salamandra” (particularly E. Olejnik and A. Kepel) for technical, financial and accommodation help. Lizzy Carroll and Tim Sparks kindly improved the English. We also thank three referees, especially L. Lefebvre for fruitful comments and suggestions. Studies on the breeding biology of the Great Grey Shrike in western Poland were supported by grants KBN 6PO4F 046 21 and 6PO4F 053 25, GEF/SGP Poland for PT, GAJU 60/2001/P-BF and SGA 2003 of University of South Bohemia for MA and SGA 2000 and MSM6007665801 for MH. The paper is dedicated to the memory of the late Prof. Zdeněk Veselovský.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag and ISPA 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marcin Antczak
    • 1
    Email author
  • Martin Hromada
    • 2
  • Paweł Czechowski
    • 3
  • Jacek Tabor
    • 4
  • Piotr Zabłocki
    • 5
  • Jerzy Grzybek
    • 1
  • Piotr Tryjanowski
    • 6
  1. 1.Department of Behavioural EcologyAdam Mickiewicz UniversityPoznańPoland
  2. 2.Department of Zoology, Faculty of ScienceUniversity of South BohemiaČeské BudějoviceCzech Republic
  3. 3.Institute for Tourism and RecreationState Higher Vocational School in SulechówSulechówPoland
  4. 4.Spała Landscape ParkInowłódzPoland
  5. 5.Opole Silesia Museum, Department of Natural HistoryOpolePoland
  6. 6.Institute of ZoologyPoznań University of Life SciencePoznańPoland

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