Miniature video cameras strapped to the backs of young brown boobies allow researchers to watch how they learn from other seabirds.

The video cameras captured footage of them chasing other juveniles and following adults to feeding areas. The juvenile boobies also mingled with other seabird species, like brown noddies, streaked shearwaters and black-naped terns.

“Social interactions play a crucial role in the development of young individuals, including humans,” said Ken Yoda, a scientist at Nagoya University and lead author of a study May 6 in PLoS One.

By following adults or hanging out with more experienced birds, naive or young individuals can pick up valuable information on things like good foraging areas or migratory routes, the authors wrote. The more experienced animals don’t necessarily actively teach the youngsters, but the inexperienced animals learn by following.

“However, highly mobile juvenile birds in inaccessible environments are difficult to observe,” said Yoda. So there weren’t any reports on their social behaviors before this study.

Satellite tags give researchers location data on an animal at sea, but there’s no way of knowing exactly what they’re doing. The advent of smaller video cameras allows scientists to fill in these observation gaps.

Yoda and his colleagues found that the young birds spent more time following adult brown boobies than other juveniles. The youngsters also performed more foraging dives near other birds. Seabirds can detect the presence of prey by watching the diving activities of other birds. The juveniles could have been attracted to potential feeding grounds by watching other diving seabirds, the authors wrote.

Yoda hopes to look at the social interactions of different age classes of seabirds to see if their behavior changes with age and experience. He also thinks the video footage could be useful in monitoring marine environments or discovering unknown organisms.

Video: A bird’s-eye view from the back of a juvenile brown booby. (Ken Yoda/PLoS One)

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