Blue Tits and the ‘Potpourri’ hypothesis

European Blue Tit – CC photo credit – marko_k

Following the bees, now the birds and more on the neologism pharmacophory*.

Other members of the animal world have been documented to ingest plant or mineral substances apparently in response to infection and illness. Though so far only a few have been documented to apply herbal or other natural substances in their local environment or around their dwellings.

One other animal that has been documented to also collect plant material containing pharmacologically active constituents is the European Blue Tit. A series of recent papers describe how it was found that Blue Tits collected foliage from highly aromatic herbs, Yarrow, Lavenders, Mints, Thyme, Pine even Eucalyptus (introduced to Mediterranean Europe), to line their nests. The presence in the nest of specific aromatic plants having a greater representation than would be expected compared to the immediately available surrounding flora, indicating an active seeking and collecting of this material for nests. The birds even replacing it when those pesky researchers had removed it to see what the birds did.

Blue Tit nest with a clutch of eggs – CC photo credit – fsphil

It probably isn’t just for decoration either, as they discovered that the aromatic foliage benefited the chicks through increased weight gain and feather development and higher hematocrit levels in their blood. The aromatic plant material contains anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and other active constituents that reduce the parasite and microbial burden and appears to be derived from a range of aroma types. Hence the Potpourri hypothesis, where a broad range of aroma types represent a broader spectrum of constituents or may mask the scent of chicks to predators or deter blood suckers like mosquitos. Perhaps they even help with attracting mates.

Picture credit – wonderful shot from Words @ Everything is Permuted

*Pharmacophory – literally ‘carrying’ or ‘moving of drugs’, was the neologism applied to the increased collection of propolis and application around the hive by bees when their hive was infected with the chalkbrood fungus mentioned in a previous post. Somewhere between the human use of antiseptics, incenses or mozzie and insect repellents, aromatherapy and preventative medicine it seems to me. Science is a boon for deriving precise but obscure classic terms for often seemingly mundane phenomena or experience. Seems like good one to me.

Refs.

Aromatic herbs in Corsican blue tit nests: The ‘Potpourri’ hypothesis
Aromatic plants in nests of blue tits: positive effects on nestlings
Aromatic Plants in Eurasian Blue Tit Nests: The ‘Nest Protection Hypothesis’ Revisited


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2 Responses to Blue Tits and the ‘Potpourri’ hypothesis

  1. Wonderful. This is wonderful to know—Thank you.

    • Nature and Science says:

      Thank you
      The Pot Pourri hypothesis sounds good to me
      Wonderful Secret Gardener blog you have to follow there too

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