It is Time to be More Formal in your Observations of Animal Behavior DUE at time of 2nd hr exam Behaviors can be generally classified as events or states. Events are short duration actions (jumping into the water, flying to a new perch, scratching an ear, charging a rival, eating a berry). States are longer duration activities (sleeping, foraging, sitting next to another individual). Both events and states can be recorded as counts (how many times a behavior occurs) or frequencies (how often a behavior occurs over a given period of time). States also have a time component that can be recorded as start and stop time or duration. DESCRIBING A BEHAVIOR: 3 ASPECTS Structure: What does the behavior look (or sound, or smell) like? How is the animal positioned and what motions is it going through? Consequences: What effect does the behavior have? This can include effects on the animal subject, another animal, or the environment. Some examples of describing a behavior in terms of consequences are “feeding”, “a threat display”, or “collecting nectar” Spatial:: Where or with whom is subject behaving? Rather than be concerned with what the animal is doing, the focus is on the environment, orientation or social context SAMPLING BEHAVIOR In many situations it would be impractical, if not impossible, and not terribly helpful to record every aspect of an animal’s behavior at every moment. Therefore researchers sample behavior by making observations according to a pre-established plan. Ad libitum sampling: this is pretty much writing everything down that you can. It is often used for field notes and preliminary observations. It’s hard to keep track of everything though, so observations are apt to be biased toward more obvious behaviors. Also these sorts of data can be hard to quantify, and converting observations to numbers is essential for most scientific analysis. Focal animal sampling: the observer focuses on one individual and records that animal’s behavior. All occurrence sampling: the observer focuses on a particular behavior and records when or how often it occurs. For example, a researcher could record how many times songbirds mobbing a hawk swoop toward the hawk, or perhaps how many times coyotes howl between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m.. Scan sampling: the observer checks what is going on at fixed intervals. It is a method best suited for recording behavioral states, since events are likely to be missed. The shorter the scan interval, the more informative the data will be. It is a good method for collecting data on groups of animals. For example, a researcher could scan a herd of deer at 30 second intervals and note how many were grazing with heads down, how many had their heads up looking around, and how many were lying down. INSTRUCTIONS FOR YOUR ANIMAL OBSERVATION Observe the animal (or animals) and take notes on its behavior for at least 20 minutes. If you choose an organism that has long behavioral state durations or an individual that just isn’t doing anything interesting (for example, if none of the birds on the telephone wire have moved in 15 minutes), then you should observe for longer, observe at a different time, or choose a different organism to observe. It is expected that you will make a reasonable effort to complete this task. Make your notes as detailed as possible. Don’t just watch the animal, but really observe it. Pretend you are trying to give a play-by-play of the action to a blind person. “Bird sits on branch and sings” tells you the main points, but misses a lot of detail. “Bird fluffs wings, hops, sings song, sings another song, sounds different—more trilly—flies to smaller tree (willow?), flies back to different branch in first tree….” gives a more complete picture. You aren’t trying to analyze the behavior at this point, just give a full description of what the animal is doing. Don’t worry about making your notes neat, as long as you can read them. Use drawings if they are helpful in recording the setting, the animal’s movement, or what a particular behavior looks like. Exactly what you record will, of course, depend upon the animal you choose and how it is behaving. Try to note the times of behavioral events or changes in behavioral state (for example, “11:21 gets up”). If you are able to identify certain behaviors and want to quantify them, you can create a space in your notes to keep counts of how often each behavior occurs in a certain time period. For example, you could count how many ants emerge from the ground over 10 minutes, or how often a hummingbird comes to a feeder. In cases like the latter, you could set up a column for the behavior and note the time of each occurrence when it happens. Behavioral counts are not required for the assignment, but can be used to make your note taking easier, since it can be hard to watch and write at the same time. However, please don’t forego descriptions and turn in just a bunch of tick marks or columns of times. You will not get full credit for such abbreviated observations. Your notes should include: 1. Date and time 2. Location where you observed animal 3. Habitat in which you found the animal (a field of grass, dense shrubbery, rocky intertidal zone, mowed lawn, etc.), 4. Weather conditions (hot sun? foggy? Cool evening?) 5. Description of animal including common and scientific names if known 6. Description of animal’s social environment (Alone? With another individual? In a large flock?) 7. Your behavioral observations You will most likely use ad libitum sampling for this assignment, since you are making preliminary observations. In most cases it will make sense to choose a single focal animal to observe. Avoid anthropomorphisms and over interpretation of what you observe. For example, don’t use words that imply you know the emotional state of the animal such as “angry” or “happy.” Don’t feel that you need to understand what is going on. Your job for the moment is just to record it as best you can. 8. Later read your notes and write down one or more questions that come to mind from your observation.