Laughs, cries and deception: birds’ emotional lives are just as complicated as ours

July on the Northern Tableland, near Armidale in New South Wales, is usually the beginning of the breeding season and field observations start early.

I sat and watched in freezing temperatures. The sun was just rising above the horizon of this 1000m-high plateau when through binoculars I saw a young lone magpie, walking gingerly, literally tip-toeing, occasionally interrupted by little bouts of running and, unusually, heading straight for its territorial boundary.

In the last stretch to the border, the bird edged along a row of pine trees, staying low, and kept looking over its shoulder, especially when crossing the neighbour’s border. Shortly afterwards, a female was seen in his company.

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