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The heaviest flying bird in the world seems to be self-medicating

about the episode

The great bustard is a huge bird. Of all flying birds, males weigh up to 16 kilograms – they are the heaviest in the world. You will find them in Europe, especially in Spain. Often one also wanders through the Netherlands.

To find a mate, the males gather at the same spot each year and then put on an impressive display to visit the females. Best artist wins. Research is now showing that this unusual bird seems to do something rather strange: self-medicate. Taking plant matter against diseases and parasites.

People have been doing this for a long time. It is already thought to also occur in animals. Such as monkeys, bears, deer, honey bees, parrots, and fruit flies. But proving that these animals actually self-medicate is difficult without opportunities to conduct experiments with control groups.

Now, a group of scientists has been studying the Great Staircase since the 1980s. The bird spends long periods in the same place during the mating season. It’s a restroom and a date site at the same time. This asks for infectious diseases and parasites. When the researchers examined this bird’s poop, they found a lot of plant matter in it.

What stood out: Of the two types of plants they found – especially during the mating season – much more than expected: large poppies and live weeds. The first is known to reduce pain, and the second – toxic to humans – is full of fatty acids, among other things. After further research, it was found that the plants also work against parasites and fungi common to birds.

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It is of course field research, not yet conclusively proven, but it still looks suspiciously like self-medication.

Read more: It may be the world’s heaviest bird to self-medicate on plants used in traditional medicine.

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