Chicks, bullied by the older birds, tend to perpetuate the same behaviour themselves when they come of age.
Such chicks are more likely to grow into bullies as adults, suggests a new study based on a colony of Nazca Boobies, seabird from the Galapogas Islands.
Scientists say the evidence is the first from the wild showing that, like humans, child abuse is socially transmitted rather than genetic, reports the journal The Auk.
“The maltreatment of nestlings by adults is really obvious,” said study co-author David Anderson from the Wake Forest University, North Carolina, US. “Essentially all nestlings experience some maltreatment,” he said, the Daily Mail reports.
“The Nazca booby model may be very useful for studies of the phenomenon, especially manipulative studies, that cannot be done with humans.”
Like humans, Nazca parents raise one child at a time. These birds nest very close together, violence will break out between families.
Often, when parent birds are away from the nest gathering food, non-related adults will interact with the babies. This can take the form of care and feeding or in some cases sexual and physical abuse.