Predator discrimination and anti-predator behaviour by wintering parids: an experimental study

Olav Hogstad


Even though birds’ perceptions of risk are biased towards starvation avoidance in winter, recognition of the level of threat of a predator is an important precondition. To investigate the ability of three tit species (Blue Cyanistes caeruleus, Great Parus major and Willow Tits Poecile montanus) to recognise dangerous and harmless objects, I studied their mobbing reaction and the latency of the tits to return to the feeder after being exposed to life like models of Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus, Siberian Jay Perisoreus infaustus and Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides tridactylus, birds similar in size (about 30 cm) but differing widely from each other in feeding. The mobbing level was higher and the latency time of each of the tit species were significantly longer after presenting the Sparrowhawk than the Siberian Jay, whereas the woodpecker aroused no specific reaction. The tits apparently recognised the individual predator species and made decisions on their perceptions of the threat level.


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