Crafty magpies outsmart scientists as they help each other remove trackers

Crafty magpies worked together to outsmart scientists by removing tracking devices from their bodies, leaving researchers flabbergasted.

Scientists attached tiny devices to five magpies in Australia in a bid to discover more about their movement and social dynamics.

But although researchers from Sunshine Coast University had hopes for their pilot study, they didn't expect to discover a rare social behaviour that has been dubbed cooperative "rescue" behaviour.

Researchers designed little backpack-like devices, which featured a harness to hold the tracker, which allowed them to capture data without requiring the birds needing to be caught again, reports 9 News.

They managed to train a group of local magpies to visit an outdoor ground feeding "station" that could either wirelessly charge the battery, download data, or release the tracker and harness.

The team said they were excited by the design and said the harness was tough to remove and would require scissors or a magnet.

During the pilot, researchers discovered how quickly the birds joined forces and within ten minutes of the final tracker being fitted, they spotted the rescue behaviour.

It was reported that within a matter of hours, the majority of the devices had been taken off, with a dominant male having his tracker successfully removed by day three.

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Scientists said it's unclear whether it was the same individual who was supporting the removal or whether duties were shared.

The paper reads: "Notably, removal was observed to involve one bird snapping another bird’s harness at the only weak point, such that the tracker was released.

"This behaviour demonstrates both cooperation and a moderate level of problem-solving, providing potential further evidence of the cognitive abilities of this species.

"To our knowledge, this is the first study to report the conspecific removal of GPS trackers, and should be considered when planning future tracking studies especially on highly social species."

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