Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Eavesdropping nuthatches distinguish danger threats in chickadee alarm calls

20.03.2007
If Dr. John Watson had been chronicling the work of Christopher Templeton rather than the exploits of Sherlock Holmes, he might have entitled the latest research by Templeton "The Adventure of the Avian Eavesdroppers."

The University of Washington doctoral student has found the first example of an animal making sophisticated decisions about the danger posed by a predator from the information contained in the alarm calls of another species.

In a paper published this week in the on-line edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Templeton reports that red-breasted nuthatches (Sitta Canadensis) eavesdrop on the alarm calls of the black-capped chickadee to glean information about predators in their environment. Two years ago, Templeton showed that the chickadees’ (Poecile atricapillus) familiar chick-a-dee-dee-dee alarm calls contained a surprising amount of information. Now, it turns out, the nuthatches can understand the warnings given by the chickadee.

"No one has ever seen this behavior before. There are a fair number of animals that respond to other animal’s alarm calls. But this is the first example of subtle information from a call being interpreted by another species," said Templeton. "Nuthatches can tell if a raptor poses a high or low danger from the chickadee’s alarm call."

His earlier work showed that the chickadees had two types of alarm calls to warn about predators. When they see flying raptors – birds of prey such as hawks, owls and falcons – they issue a soft, high-pitched "seet" call. However, when they see a stationary or perched predator, chickadees use a loud, wide-spectrum chick-a-dee-dee-dee alarm to recruit other birds to harass, or mob, the predator and chase it away.

Analysis of recorded chickadee mobbing calls indicated that the acoustic features of the calls varied with the size of the predator observed. Most typically chickadees change the dee-dee-dee note at the end of the calls, sometimes adding five, 10 or 15 dees. When the recordings were played back to other chickadees their response was related to the size and threat presented by the potential predator. Small, agile raptors such as the pygmy owl which can prey on small songbirds present a greater danger to the chickadees than does the great horned owl, a larger, less maneuverable raptor.

Chickadees and nuthatches are similar in size, occupy many of the same habitats, exist in mix-species flocks during the winter and are attacked by the same predators. To see if and how nuthatches responded to the chickadee alarm calls, Templeton placed a speaker at the base of trees in a forest where pairs of the nuthatches were present. He observed their behavior when he played chickadee calls warning about pygmy and great horned owls. All trials were conducted when no live chickadee were present so their behavior wouldn’t influence the nuthatches.

The nuthatches exhibited strong mobbing behavior – more of them responded, flew closer to the speaker and appeared to be more agitated by flicking their wings when they heard the small predator alarm than when they heard the large owl alarm.

"It turns out that these animals are pretty smart," said Templeton. "Knowing what kinds of predators are around could be a matter of life or death for them, so it pays for them to listen to the alarm calls of other species. That one animal has cracked the code and extracted the information from another species is pretty amazing."

He said this appears to be learned behavior because the mobbing calls of the two songbird species are very different.

"Mobbing seems to be a way of teaching birds which predators are dangerous. But we have no idea how nuthatches learn to interpret the chickadee calls."

Joel Schwarz | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.washington.edu

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Dune ecosystem modelling
23.06.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau

nachricht Understanding animal social networks can aid wildlife conservation
23.06.2017 | Leibniz-Institut für Gewässerökologie und Binnenfischerei (IGB)

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Equipping form with function

23.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>