A selfish streak of silver in their heart,
These scavengers are thieves without a band;
In altruistic goals they play no part,
An archipelago with just one land.
But species that are blessed with sapphire wings,
Have turned these ‘known’ conventions on their head;
They do not care so much for shiny things,
As knowing that their group has been well fed.
The love they show each other is innate,
It starts with how they choose to raise their young;
They work beyond the needs of one sole mate,
A ladder that feels more than just a rung.
It’s thought that humans also bred this way,
Behaviour that somehow feels lost today.
This is a Shakespearian Sonnet, inspired by recent research that exams the selfless behaviour of azure-winged magpies. Researchers found that by setting up an experiment in which a seesaw mechanism was attached to a bird feeder, the magpies selflessly took it in turns to stand on one end of the seesaw, opening up the bird feeder to allow other magpies to feed. A control experiment, with a seesaw mechanism that was not attached to a bird feeder, demonstrated that the magpies only operated the apparatus when their group members could actually obtain the food.
This research suggests that prosocial behaviour exists in species of birds that cooperatively breed (like the azure-winged magpie), which in turn supports the theory that human altruism (i.e. the selfless concern for the well-being of others) evolved from our early ancestors working cooperatively to care for their young. This is known as the cooperative breeding hypothesis.
An audio version of this poem can be heard here.