Journal of Ornithology

, Volume 159, Issue 1, pp 245–253 | Cite as

Helpers of the Giant Babax cheat for an immediate reward when they provision the brood

  • Li-Qing Fan
  • Xin-Wei Da
  • Juan-Juan Luo
  • Li-Li Xian
  • Guo-Liang Chen
  • Bo DuEmail author
Original Article


Cooperative breeding is a special form of cooperation between dominant breeders and subordinate helpers, in which cheating by helpers happens occasionally. As cheating by helpers will reduce the interest of dominant breeders in them, it is difficult to understand why dominant breeders often tolerate the presence of cheaters within the group. We addressed this in the Giant Babax Babax waddelli, a cooperative breeder that breeds exclusively on the Tibetan Plateau. During the nestling period, helpers exhibited three types of non-feeding behaviors when they visited the nest: pseudo-feeding, without food but mimicking food delivery activities; false feeding, delivering plastic debris to nestlings; and contested kleptoparasitism of fecal sacs of nestlings, without delivering food but snatching fecal sacs of nestlings after others delivered food. We found that these non-feeding behaviors of helpers had an obvious aim, to get fecal sacs of nestlings, thus they were considered to be cheating. In response to the cheating of a helper, the female breeder reacted negatively, the male breeder disregarded it, and other helpers became accomplices. Since helpers contributed nearly 70% to brood provisioning, the benefits that breeders obtained from the presence of helpers outweighed the costs caused by the cheaters. This can explain why dominant breeders do not evict cheaters from the cooperative group. We suggest that a short-term reward may be also an important force driving helpers to cheat in cooperative breeding.


Cooperative breeding Cheating Provisioning behavior Immediate reward Dominants 


Helfer beim Riesenbabax täuschen bei der Brutpflege für eine umgehende Belohnung

Kooperatives Brüten ist eine spezielle Form der Kooperation zwischen dominanten brütenden Vögeln und untergeordneten Helfern, in der es bisweilen zu Täuschungen durch die Helfer kommt. Da Täuschungen durch Helfer die Interessen der dominanten, brütenden Vögel beschädigen, ist es nicht leicht zu verstehen, warum die dominanten Vögel die Anwesenheit von Betrügern in der Gruppe tolerieren. Wir gingen dieser Frage beim Riesenbabax (Babax waddelli) nach, einer kooperativ brütenden Art, die ausschließlich im Hochland von Tibet brütet. Während der Nestlingszeit zeigten die Helfer folgende drei Verhaltensweisen beim Nestbesuch, bei denen sie nicht fütterten: (1) Scheinfüttern, ohne Futter, aber ein Füttern vortäuschend; (2) Falsches Füttern, bei dem sie den Nestlingen Plastikmüll brachten; (3) Kleptoparasitismus von Kotsäcken, bei dem sie Kotsäcke der Nestlinge schnappten, nachdem andere Futter brachten. Wir fanden heraus, dass dieses nicht-fütternde Verhalten der Helfer den offensichtlichen Zweck hatte, an Kotsäcke der Nestlinge zu gelangen, und daher eine Täuschung gewesen sein könnte. Dir brütenden Weibchen zeigten eine negative Reaktion auf das Täuschungsverhalten der Helfer und die Männchen ignorierten es, während andere Helfer zu Komplizen werde konnten. Da der Anteil der Helfer an der Brutpflege bei nahezu 70% liegt, wird der Schaden durch die Anwesenheit der Betrüger durch den Nutzen der Helfer mehr als aufgewogen. Das kann erklären, warum die dominanten, brütenden Vögel die Betrüger nicht aus der Gruppe verstoßen. Wir geben zu bedenken, dass eine kurzfristige Belohnung auch eine wichtige treibende Kraft sein könnte, die Helfer beim kooperativen Brüten zum Täuschen treibt.



This study was funded by the National Natural Sciences Foundation of China (grant number 31572271) and the Flexible Talent Introduction Project of the Tibetan College of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry (grant RXR201508). The authors would especially like to thank the editor, Franz Bairlein, and two anonymous reviewers for their important improvements to the presentation of the statistical analyses, and to the English. The animal captures were permitted under the Wildlife Conservation Law of the Tenth National People’s Congress of China (28 August 2004).

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 6 (MP4 4952 kb)


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Copyright information

© Dt. Ornithologen-Gesellschaft e.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Plateau EcologyTibetan Agriculture and Animal Husbandry CollegeLinzhiChina
  2. 2.School of Life SciencesLanzhou UniversityLanzhouChina

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