Re: Play

Subject: Re: Play
From: Stephen Ambrose <>
Date: Tue, 21 Apr 1998 16:04:19 +1000
At 07:15 PM 4/19/98 +1000, Susan Myers wrote:
>I saw a David Attenborough docco on Ground Hornbills in southern Africa
>where he claimed (or his scriptwriters did) that they are one of the only
>known bird species to play, either as immatures or adults. This is, to
>mind, obviously a false statement as many species appear to play to
>different degrees. This said,the degree & vigour of the playful behaviour
>exhibited by the Apostlebirds was quite marked. 

Hi Susan,

I agree with you that the script-writers for this docco are wrong. I think
we have all seen what appears to be play behaviour in Galahs. Rowley (1990)
describes this type of behaviour in Galahs very well:

"A behaviour that is hard to classify or ascribe a motivation to, consists
of hanging upside down from branches, telephone wires or aerials, and
swinging to and fro with spread wings, while screeching in a mild (i.e.
unalarmed) manner. To call this 'play' does not help explain why both
adults and young birds behave in this seemingly pointless way. It usually
takes place in the intervals between feeds during fine, calm weather and
appears to be infectious, several birds joining in once the performance has
started" (p. 42).

I also recall seeing on TV some wild Galahs in a public playground which
were repeatedly climbing up the ladder of a children's slide and then
sliding down. It's hard to imagine that this is not play behaviour.

Like Susan, I would like to read on Birding-Aus other people's observations
of apparent play behaviour in Australian birds. 

>I also noted that allopreening was regularly carried out. On >reading what
little literature I
>could find at home, it seems to be related to sexual behaviour or
>maintenance of group cohesion.

Allopreening is quite common in birds, particularly in parrots and
cockatoos. Rowley (1990) also describes allopreening behaviour and its
function in the Galah:

"Peaceful interactions between resting, perched Galahs often leads to one
bird preening another and the process being reciprocated. The birds engaged
in this allopreening are often members of a pair or a parent and progeny,
but this is not always so and allopreening cannot be used to prove that two
birds are a pair. Nevertheless, allopreening appears to be an important
part of maintaining the pair-bond. The preener attends to those parts of
the recipient not reached with its own bill, namely the head and neck
regions. Either partner may initiate the session, which typically takes the
form of lowering the head and presenting the exposed nape to be preened. If
this invitation is accepted, the preener will move from the nape to the
crown and face and ultimately may nibble the skin round the eye, which will
be closed by that time. A bout of allopreening seldom lasts more than a
minute before the roles are reversed and the other bird receives attention.
A session of allopreening may last for as long as five minutes but often
long sessions are interspersed with spells of autopreening" (p. 53)


Rowley, I. (1990). Behavioural Ecology of the Galah, Eolophus roseicapillus
in the Wheatbelt of Western Australia (Surrey Beatty & Sons Pty. Ltd,
Chipping Norton).

Dr Stephen Ambrose
Research Manager

Birds Australia (Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union)
Australian Bird Research Centre
415 Riversdale Road,
Hawthorn East,
VIC   3123.

Tel:    +61 3 9882 2622
Fax:    +61 3 9882 2677
1997 Australian Bird Research Directory is on Birds Australia's 
home page: <>.

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