Study: Elk + Magpie = “Friends?”

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If you do a Google search, you’ll find scores of images of elk with magpies perched on their backs, shoulders or even heads. A scientist recently stated that personality may determine whether elk and magpies become “friends.”

Dr. Karen Shaw Becker recently wrote that nature highlights all kinds of unlikely relationships—elk and magpies among them. She backed up her assertion by relating part of a study that shows how elk are the beneficiaries of such a partnership.

“[B]y having greater tolerance for magpies, shy elk may reduce their tick loads compared to bold elk, and this can help them compensate for being out-competed for forage by the more dominant, bold elk. These results may be important for further understanding the impacts of mutualism on biodiversity, and this is a promising avenue for further research,” Rob Found wrote in a Biology Letters study.

Translation: magpies remove ticks which may benefit the overall health of an individual elk that doesn’t shoo them away.

Shaw also noted that more aggressive elk do not allow birds to land on them.