University of Exeter scientists find seabirds 'follow the crowd' when diving into water

The saying goes "there's safety in numbers", and scientists from the University of Exeter may well have proved that's true - when it comes to seabirds at least.

A new study has found diving seabirds "follow the crowd" to work out when is best to hit the water.

The Shag is one of 13 species of seabird that can be seen on the Isles of Scilly. Credit: PA

European shags were found to be twice as likely to take the plunge after seeing a feathered friend go underwater first.

Scientists filmed the birds off the Isles of Scilly to examine their behaviour.

Researchers say the behaviour could have a number of benefits, including helping the birds to save energy by reducing the need for "uninformed" dives.

Puffins are among the most popular sights for visitors to the Isles of Scilly. Credit: PA

Researchers say it's the first study to investigate why large groups, known as rafts, of shags dive together at sea.

Dr Julian Evans, who led the study, said the birds respond to "social cues".

Our results suggest these birds aren't just reacting to underwater cues when deciding where and when to dive. They respond to social cues by watching their fellow birds and copying their behaviour. They're essentially using other flock members as sources of information, helping them choose the best place to find fish.

Dr Julian Evans, University of Exeter

Dr Evans added that more research is needed to fully understand the reasons for the behaviour.

He said it is important to understand the behaviour of European shags because they, and other seabird species, are under "great pressure" due to declining fish stocks, climate change and habitat loss.

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