Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 63, Issue 9, pp 1319–1329

Heavier birds react faster to predators: individual differences in the detection of stalking and ambush predators


    • Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Faculty of Biomedical and Life SciencesUniversity of Glasgow
    • Department of Zoology, Edward Grey Institute of Field OrnithologyOxford University
  • John R. Krebs
    • Department of Zoology, Edward Grey Institute of Field OrnithologyOxford University
  • Mark J. Whittingham
    • School of Biology and PsychologyNewcastle University
Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s00265-009-0778-6

Cite this article as:
Jones, K.A., Krebs, J.R. & Whittingham, M.J. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (2009) 63: 1319. doi:10.1007/s00265-009-0778-6


The relationship between body mass and reactions speed in response to a predatory threat is poorly understood. Theory predicts that different vigilance patterns are optimal for the detection of different predator types. We suggest that birds of different individual state might also differ in their speed of response dependent upon predator type. We used laboratory trials of wild caught chaffinches (Fringilla coelebs) to determine how between individual differences in chaffinch behaviour and state correlate with latency to react to a ground predator model (domestic cat), thus providing a comparison with previous work in the same model system using aerial predator models. In experiment 1, we observed chaffinch responses to a moving cat model, simulating a stalking predator. In experiment 2, we used a camouflaged cat model simulating an ambush predator. Both experiments show evidence suggesting heavier individuals (which previous literature has linked to impaired flight performance) responded more quickly to the model cat. Heavier individuals also had shorter interscan intervals. In contrast to a previous study, both experiments found individuals with a higher intake rate were not faster at responding to the cat model. In addition, individuals in experiment 1 that head turned more while scanning were slower to respond to the stalking cat model. Our work suggests that although heavier individuals may have impaired escape performance they appear to show behavioural compensation by allocating more attention to anti-predator behaviour and by modifying their interscan intervals, resulting in faster response times to a ground predator. We suggest more experiments investigating response time to different predatory types and explicitly manipulating state to elucidate cause and effect.


Anti-predator behaviourReaction speedPredationStalkingVigilanceBody mass

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009