Pair bond characteristics and maintenance in free-flying jackdaws Corvus monedula: effects of social context and season

Robin J. Kubitza, Thomas Bugnyar, Christine Schwab

Published online: 
6 November 2014

Most birds rely on cooperation between pair partners for breeding. In long-term monogamous species, pair bonds are considered the basic units of social organization, albeit these birds often form foraging, roosting or breeding groups in which they repeatedly interact with numerous conspecifics. Focusing on jackdaws Corvus monedula, we here investigated 1) the interplay between pair bond and group dynamics in several social contexts and 2) how pair partners differ in individual effort of pair bond maintenance. Based on long-term data on free-flying birds, we quantified social interactions between group members within three positive contexts (spatial proximity, feeding and sociopositive interactions) for different periods of the year (non-breeding, pre-breeding, parental care). On the group level, we found that the number of interaction partners was highest in the spatial proximity context while in the feeding and sociopositive contexts the number of interaction partners was low and moderately low, respectively. Interactions were reciprocated within almost all contexts and periods. Investigating subgrouping within the flock, results showed that interactions were preferentially directed towards the respective pair partner compared to unmated adults. When determining pair partner effort, both sexes similarly invested most into mutual proximity during late winter, thereby refreshing their bond before the onset of breeding. Paired males fed their mates over the entire year at similar rates while paired females hardly fed their mates at all but engaged in sociopositive behaviors instead. We conclude that jackdaws actively seek out positive social ties to flock members (close proximity, sociopositive behavior), at certain times of the year. Thus, the group functions as a dynamic social unit, nested within are highly cooperative pair bonds. Both sexes invested into the bond with different social behaviors and different levels of effort, yet these are likely male and female proximate mechanisms aimed at maintaining and perpetuating the pair bond.