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Hoo are you? Tits do not respond to novel predators as threats

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Abstract

To combat the threat of predation, prey species have developed a variety of ways to recognize and respond appropriately to novel predators. While there is evidence that predator recognition does not require learning in certain species, learning appears to play an important role for other species. In systems where learning is important, it is less clear whether predator identification requires prior experience with specific predators or, whether general experience with predators provides sufficient tools for identifying similar species of novel predators. Here we test whether wild-living adult birds recognize a dangerous predator that occurs in only part of their geographical range. We presented taxidermy mounts of little owls, Athene noctua, and sparrowhawks, Accipiter nisus, to blue tits, Cyanistes caeruleus, and great tits, Parus major. All populations of both tit species co-occur with sparrowhawks, but populations differ in their prior experience with little owls. We found that tits that overlap geographically with little owls responded to little owls using the same intensity of mobbing behaviour exhibited toward sparrowhawks. In populations with no historical contact with little owls, however, both blue and great tits treated little owls as a lower threat than sparrowhawks. These results suggest that blue tits and great tits do not generalize ‘predatory features’ to novel predators and instead need prior experience with specific predators before they assign the correct level of threat.
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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79-84
Number of pages6
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Volume128
Early online date8 May 2017
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 2017

    Research areas

  • Learning, Little owl, Mobbing response, Paridae, Predator recognition, Social information, Sparrowhawk

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