Arabian Babblers, status anxiety and overconsumption

Arabian Babbler, © YOAVD

From case studies on birds, such as the Arabian Babbler, important insights have been gained into wider animal behaviour and human social problems that may be informative regarding our unsustainable use of resources.

From bluebirds and bluethroats to swallows and dunnocks, birds relentlessly remind us that the struggle for reproduction is more variably difficult for males than for females, and that the resulting sexual selection favours males that go to greater lengths to prove themselves to potential mates. From case studies of these and other birds concepts have grown that generate important insights not just into wider animal behaviour but human social problems as diverse as risk-taking, domestic violence, rape, substance abuse and behaviour in traffic. The parallel between male birds and male humans expending precious energy on extravagant bodily decorations, courtship behaviour, vocalisations or simply—as in Amotz Zahavi’s modestly plumaged Arabian Babbler Turdoides squamiceps (see Zahavi and Zahavi 1997)—prestigious displays of altruism, all in an effort to demonstrate their greater access to resources and thus uncheatingly advertise their superior quality, is one which may yet be informative as western civilisation attempts to slow its seemingly inexorable decline into terminal overconsumption. If this comes to pass, then human society may come to celebrate the fact that the most critical insight into the causes for our unsustainable treatment of the planet emerged from careful observation of certain small brown birds that live among the baked acacia bushes of the Israeli desert (Collar et al. 2007).


 Collar, N. J., Long, A. J., Robles Gil, P. and Rojo, J. (2007) Birds and people: bonds in a timeless journey. Mexico City: CEMEX.
Zahavi, A. and Zahavi, A. (1997) The handicap principle: a missing piece of Darwin’s puzzle. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Compiled 2008

Recommended Citation:
BirdLife International (2008) Arabian Babblers, status anxiety and overconsumption. Presented as part of the BirdLife State of the world's birds website. Available from: . Checked: