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Social distancing in birds


One of many things that the COVID-19 pandemic will be remembered for is the introduction of the term “social distancing” to the global lexicon. The term is being used to describe a collective behaviour designed to maintain distances between individuals that are beyond the expected range of the normal person-to-person virus transmission.

Distancing is one of several strategies being employed to dampen the rate of contagion, blunt the peak of active cases and hopefully reduce the overall number of people that will contract the disease. As a highly social species, the concept of behavioural spacing is foreign to most people and the term is unfamiliar.

For bird behaviourists, the term social distance and its variants (territoriality, individual space, social spacing) are familiar and have been in use for over a century. Social distancing was initially used to describe the common observation that birds often exhibit a uniform distribution with incredibly even distances between individuals. MORE

Header image: Social distancing in the sky: An example of three-dimensional social distancing within a cormorant colony. Nests are spaced along individual limbs and are also staggered between upper and lower limbs. Such spacing is forced by aggressive interactions. Credit: Bryan Watts.

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