A high-flying international study has found sparrows, like humans, use medicinal herbs to defend against parasites and improve the condition of their offspring.
Proving that the early bird that catches the wormwood, it’s been found that sparrows in China use that plant’s leaves in their nests as a form of preventative medicine.
Griffith University researchers joined with colleagues from universities in China and France to study the russet sparrow.
Dr William Feeney, from Griffith University’s Environmental Futures Research Institute, said the use of medicines is a complex behaviour that has often been considered uniquely human.
While several birds have been suspected of using herbal medicines in a manner similar to humans, it’s proven difficult to verify.
“The phytochemical compounds within wormwood leaves reduced infestation of the nest parasites, which results in the production of healthier chicks,” Dr Feeney said.
“Using a series of behavioural experiments, we show that the birds actively seek out nest locations close to the available wormwood and resupply established nests with fresh wormwood leaves gathered based solely on the leaves smell.”
“The Dragon Boat Festival is one of China’s largest national festivals, where people ritualistically hang wormwood from their doors and bath their children in wormwood infused water with the customary belief that it confers protection against ill health…we observed that around the same time…russet sparrows…also incorporate fresh wormwood into its nest,” he said.
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