Deadbeat dads are nowhere to be found among Hawaii’s kalij pheasants, a species that takes to heart the notion that it takes a village to raise a chick.
A research group led by Lijin Zeng of the University of California at Riverside recently uncovered surprising differences between kalij pheasants in their native range in Asia and those descended from birds introduced to Hawaii in the 1960s.
Results from the study were published Wednesday in a journal called The Auk: Ornithological Advances.
Studying kalij pheasant groups in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, Zeng and her colleagues found that while female birds incubate their eggs alone, all group members, including the breeding female and up to six males, feed the chicks after they hatch and defend the group against intruders. While dominant males father the most chicks, subordinate males within the same group or males from other groups father almost a third of the total.
According to the researchers, this is only the third time “cooperative breeding” has been observed among pheasants. They speculate that such breeding habits grew out of overcrowding, which may prevent young males from being able to establish their own territories.
Over several years, Zeng and her team located nests by banding females with radio transmitters, then closely studied groups to determine their composition and hierarchies.