If you think human teens take crazy risks, get a load of what fledgling birds do to get that little extra scrap of food. By throwing themselves out of their nest too early and exposing themselves to predators, the young birds force a change in how they get fed.
Scientists recently observed this behavior when studying pied babblers, and they're calling it the blackmail hypothesis. During their fledgling stage — a kind of adolescence for birds — they can't fly or feed themselves, but they're old enough to start making trouble for mom and dad, their sole food providers.
When they want more food, they leave the nest early — an extremely dangerous move that threatens their own destruction, but increases the provisioning rate offered by their parents. Because they're on the ground, where their parents do most of their foraging, the birds get more food — maybe just because they're closer. But the study also found that adult birds who heard calls from other species, which signaled a possible predator nearby, fed their offspring on the ground more but didn't change how much they fed their offspring in nests. The parents may figure that well-fed offspring are less likely to take crazy chances, and more likely to get under shelter.
And paradoxically, the kids may know that jumping from the nest at the time of maximum danger means more food, in the end. So, by putting themselves in danger, they put pressure on the adults. Sounds suspiciously human.
Read the entire study at Proceedings of the Royal Society B: "The influence of fledgling location on adult provisioning: a test of the blackmail hypothesis." [via Discover]