Social Dominance in Birds

Early Findings and New Horizons
  • Walter H. Piper
Part of the Current Ornithology book series (CUOR, volume 14)


Most of the behavioral components of what we now term social dominance behavior have long been recognized in animals. Darwin, in his treatise on the emotions of humans and animals, described in detail the suite of behaviors that characterize dominant and subordinate animals, although he did not use those terms (Darwin, 1965). Hoffer (1882, in Wilson, 1975) actually described stable dominance relationships in bumblebees, but his behavioral findings did not stimulate further research. The formal scientific investigation of social dominance relationships in animals began with Thorleif Schjelderup-Ebbe’s studies of captive groups of domestic chickens (Gallus domesticus) in the early 1920s (Schjelderup-Ebbe, 1922). Schjelderup-Ebbe observed that among any two individuals within a group there existed a “peck-right” relationship: a fundamental behavioral asymmetry whereby one of the pair could consistently peck the second and thus force it to yield its position, while the second bird rarely, if ever, was able to gain such an advantage over the first.


Dominance Hierarchy Social Dominance Dominance Relationship Dominance Status Dominance Interaction 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Walter H. Piper
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyGeorge Mason UniversityFairfaxUSA

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