Behavioral Ecology with Dr. Caitlin Kight

Are there similarities between humans and other organisms? Dr. Caitlin Kight talks about her fascination with behavioral ecology, especially with birds, and how she finds their connection to human behaviors.

Caitlin: Something that I find really fascinating when you think about any kind of behavioral ecology and animal behavior research is there's always this temptation to anthropomorphize a little bit, right, because you think, ah, what they're doing is clearly what I would be doing. It clearly means this because this just seems right.

But we know, after you do these really carefully calibrated studies, you think actually what they're doing is this, and that's not what I expected. But at the end of the day, there are still things where we think they are doing something that's quite human. One example of that is we know that birds tend to sing a lot in the morning because the conditions are right.

It's just really good Physics for their sound to carry. And so they do it in the morning, they've just awakened and so they get a bit of food, they get their energy. Then once they've got their energy, they can do their calling to try to get their mate, and so we have very functional explanations. 

However, one of the things I love is that we also do see that birds sometimes seem to be singing and calling purely for the joy of it. And also sometimes they seem to be practicing. So they'll sit and very quietly just kind of sing to themselves to get better at something. And I love that kind of thing. Because it just seems so human.

I think probably there is some aspect where you know, we all have these underlying motivations, where sometimes things are just joyful, or we just want to get a little bit better at something and I love that there's that connection and how we approach these universal tasks if you like.

Nick: Well, that's fascinating. I didn't know that they practiced singing like we would. So that is fascinating.