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Emu Emu Society
Journal of BirdLife Australia

Short sketches from the long history of cooperative breeding in Australian birds

Christopher R. J. Boland and Andrew Cockburn

Emu 102(1) 9 - 17
Published: 23 April 2002


We review the early literature and correspondence on two cooperatively breeding Australian passerines, the Superb Fairy-wren, Malurus cyaneus, and the White-winged Chough, Corcorax melanorhamphos. We show that recognition of cooperative breeding in these species was widespread in the nineteenth century, prompting experiments and formulation of adaptive hypotheses. These early studies precede by decades the work of Alexander Skutch, who is generally credited with the ‘discovery’ of helping behaviour in Central American birds. We discuss why this early literature has been ignored.

© Royal Australian Ornithologists Union 2002

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