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

How to Cite

Hogstad, O. (2017). Predator discrimination and anti-predator behaviour by wintering parids: an experimental study. Ornis Norvegica, 40, 39-44.


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.


Berankova, J., Vesely, P. & Fuchs, R. 2015. The role of body size in predator recognition by untrained birds. Behavioural Processes 120: 128–134.

Bonter, D.N., Zuckerberg, B., Sedwick, C.W. & Hochachka, W.M. 2013. Daily foraging patterns in free-living birds: exploring the predation-starvation trade-off. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Biological Sciences 280: 20123087. doi:10.1098/rspb.2012.3087

Caro, T.M. 2005. Antipredator defenses in birds and mammals. University of Chicago Press, London.

Curio, E. 1978. The adative significance of avian mobbing. I. Teleonomic hypotheses and predictions. Zeitschrift der Tierpsychologie 48: 175–183.

Curio, E., Klump, G. & Regelmann, K. 1983. An anti-predator response in the Great Tit (Parus major) – is it tuned to predator risk? Oecologia 60: 83–88.

De Laet, J.F. 1985. Dominance and anti-predator behaviour of Great Tits Parus major: a field study. Ibis 127: 372–377.

Desrochers, A. 1989. Sex, dominance and microhabitat use in wintering Black-capped Chickadees: a field experiment. Ecology 70: 636–645.

Desrochers, A., Belisle, M. & Bourque, J. 2002. Do mobbing calls affect the perception of predation risk by forest birds? Animal Behaviour 64: 709–714.

Ehrlich, P.R. & McLaughlin, J.F. 1988. Scrub Jay predation on Starling and swallows – attack and interspecific defense. Condor 90: 503–505.

Flasskamp, A. 1994. The adaptive significance of avian mobbing. 5. An experimental test of the move on hypothesis. Ethology 96: 322–333.

Griesser, M. 2009. Mobbing calls signal predator category in a kin group-living bird species. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Biological Sciences. 276: 2887–2892.

Griesser, M. & Ekman, J. 2005. Nepotistic mobbing behaviour in the Siberian Jay, Perisoreus infaustus. Animal Behaviour 69: 345–352.

Hegner, R.E. 1985. Dominance and anti-predator behaviour in Blue Tits (Parus caeruleus). Animal Behaviour 33: 762–768.

Hogstad, O. 1987. Social rank in winter flocks of Willow Tits Parus montanus. Ibis 129: 1–9.

Hogstad, O. 1988a. Social rank and antipredator behaviour of Willow Tits Parus montanus in winter flocks. Ibis 130: 45–56.

Hogstad, O 1988b. The influence of energy stress on social organization and behaviour of Willow Tits Parus montanus. Fauna norv. Ser. C, Cinclus 11: 89–94.

Hogstad, O. 1995. Alarm calling by Willow Tits, Parus montanus, as mate investment. Animal Behaviour 49: 221–225.

Jansson, C., Ekman, J. & von Brömssen, A. 1981. Winter mortality and food supply in tits (Parus spp.). Oikos 37: 313–322.

Knight, R.L. & Temple, S.A. 1986. Nest defense in the American Goldfinch. Animal Behavior 34: 887–897.

MacLeod, R., Gosler, A.G. & Cresswell, W. 2005. Diurnal mass gain strategies and perceived predation risk in the Great Tit Parus major. Journal of Animal Ecology 74: 956–964.

Palleroni, A., Hauser, M. & Marler, P. 2005. Do responses of galliform birds vary adaptively with predator size? Animal Cognition 8: 200–210.

Pavey, C.R. & Smyth, A.K. 1998. Effects of avian mobbing on roost use and diet of Powerful Owls, Ninox strenua. Animal Behavior 55: 313–318.

Rytkönen, S. & Seppola, M. 1995. Vicinity of Sparrowhawk nest affects Willow Tit nest defense. Condor 97: 1074–1078

Rytkönen, S., Kuokkanen, P. & Hukkanen, M. 1988. Prey selection by Sparrowhawks Accipiter nisus and characteristics of vulnerable prey. Ornis Fennica 75: 77–87.

Slagsvold, T. & Dale, S. 1996. Disappearance of female Pied Flycatchers in relation to breeding stage and experimentally induced molt. Ecology 77: 461–471.

Solonen, T. 1997. Effect of Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus predation on forest birds in southern Finland. Ornis Fennica 74: 1–14.

Templeton, C.S., Greene, E. & Davis, K. 2005. Allometry of alarm calls: Black-capped Chickadees encode information about predator size. Science 308: 1934–1937.

Tvardikova, K. & Fuchs, R. 2012. Tits recognize the potential dangers of predators and harmless birds in feeder experiments. Journal of Ethology 30: 157–165.

Waite, T.A. & Grubb, T.C. 1987. Dominance, foraging and predation risk in the Tufted Titmouse. Condor 89: 936–940.

Welbergen, J.A. & Davies, N.B. 2009. Strategic variation in mobbing as a front line of defense against brood parasitism. Current Biology 19: 235–240.

Articles published prior to September 2020 are subject to the following terms:

Articles submitted from September 2020 are subject to the following terms:
Authors retain copyright and grant the journal right of first publication with the work simultaneously licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution License CC-BY 4.0 that allows others to share the work with an acknowledgement of the work's authorship and initial publication in this journal.

Authors are able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the non-exclusive distribution of the journal's published version of the work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository or publish it in a book), with an acknowledgement of its initial publication in this journal.

Authors are permitted and encouraged to post their work online (e.g., in institutional repositories or on their website) prior to and during the submission process, as it can lead to productive exchanges, as well as earlier and greater citation of published work.

Bergen Open Access Publishing