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A type of bird builds snow tunnels for fun

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A recently published study shows a type of bird that creates snow tunnels and trenches for no apparent reason apart from fun.

Professor emeritus at the University of Vermont Bernd Heinrich studied the unusual behavior of a flock of redpolls (Carduelis flammea) in Western Maine Mountains between November 2012 and February 2013.

In his recently published findings, Heinrich said that the activity usually starts with one bird, but gradually others join in until the whole flock creates a maze of burrows and furrows.

“I have wondered a lot about what the trigger is, and I have not seen anything obvious,” Heinrich told NewScientist, adding that the activity may have a social aspect.

The professor went on to say that he found no evidence showing the birds were searching for food as there was no vegetation near the tunnels.

He added that it was unlikely that the birds were bathing as they were very clean.

“Play is defined as behavior with no immediate function, so in that sense, yes, it is ‘just’ play,” Heinrich says.

However, Heinrich added that the tunneling could possibly be adaptive.

“Snow tunneling may have a function way up north in the high Arctic, their home: the shelter from cold,” he noted.


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