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We've all heard that the early bird gets the worm. But research shows that birds dining early and heavily may lower their life expectancy. Socially dominant birds stay lean (and agile at avoiding predators) during the day, and then stoke up later, before a cold night. Subordinate birds have to look for food whenever and wherever they can find it, and carry fat on their bodies to hedge against unpredictable rations.
The Early Bird Gets the Worm, but the Late Bird Might Live Longer
Written by Bob Sundstrom
This is BirdNote! [American Robin singing]
We’ve all heard about the “early bird” getting the “worm.” We know it as sound advice about initiative and timely action. And we can almost see that robin leaning back and tugging that recalcitrant worm out of the ground. [Comical sound of pulling and straining with a “pop” at the end] Research shows, however, that birds dining early and heavily may lower their life expectancy. A study of three North American woodland bird species found that socially dominant birds stay lean during the day and then stoke up when it’s most important – later in the day, before a cold night. At night, birds avoid hypothermia by metabolizing fat. And by staying lean through most of the day, dominant birds are more agile in avoiding predators.
Subordinate birds have to look for food whenever and wherever they can find it, and carry fat on their bodies to hedge against unpredictable rations. Dominant birds, which can push subordinates off food, can choose when they eat and so lessen their odds of being eaten themselves. [American Robin song]
Therefore, at least in the woodland bird’s world, the revised moral might read: “Get the worm late in the day – you’ll sleep better and live longer.” [American Robin song]
For BirdNote, I'm Michael Stein.
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Call of the American Robin provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by W.L. Hershberger
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2015 Tune In to Nature.org January 2015/2018 / April 2023
Narrator: Michael Stein