The azure-winged magpie, Cyanopica cyanus, is a relatively small corvid species native to Eastern Asia (China, Mongolia, Russia, Korea and Japan). Whereas its shape is similar to that of the Eurasian magpie, albeit much smaller, the two species are not really closely related. In contrast, azure-winged magpies are closely related to Iberian magpies, and only until recently the two species were thought to be one.
Azure-winged magpies live in colonies of up to 70 individuals that are comprised of multiple family groups. These family groups contain next to the breeding pair often related and unrelated conspecifics that all help in raising the offspring. This cooperative breeding style makes the azure-winged magpie an interesting model species to test predictions of the Cooperative Breeding Hypothesis (Burkart et al. 2009), especially when comparing them with other, non-cooperatively breeding corvid species such as ravens. The first results from the AWM-lab do seem to confirm at least some of these hypotheses as we could show pro-active prosociality among the azure-winged magpies, which was a first for bird species (Horn et al. 2016).
The AWM-lab was founded in September 2014. Since then we have had breeding success every year, and by now we have two social groups, each with 6 individuals. Several of our birds are hand-raised, which allows hands-on working with them, and we’re planning to expand that number as the lab grows.
Whereas the research at the AWM-lab mainly focuses on experimental tests regarding cooperation and pro-sociality, we’re also doing observational work studying their basic socio-ecology and are open for projects regarding their extra-ordinary vocal repertoire.
Burkart, J.M., Hrdy, S.B. & van Schaik, C.P. (2009). Cooperative Breeding and Human Cognitive Evolution. Evolutionary Anthropology, 18, 175–186
Horn, L., Scheer, C., Bugnyar, T. & Massen, J.J.M. (2016). Proactive prosociality in a cooperative breeding corvid, the Azure winged magpie (Cyanopica cyanus). Biology Letters, 12, 20160649.