Tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) calling and risk-sensitive foraging in the face of threat
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- Freeberg, T.M., Krama, T., Vrublevska, J. et al. Anim Cogn (2014) 17: 1341. doi:10.1007/s10071-014-0770-z
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Individuals often produce alarm or mobbing calls when they detect a threat such as a predator. Little is known about whether such calling is affected by the facial orientation of a potential threat, however. We tested for an effect of facial orientation of a potential threat on tufted titmice, Baeolophus bicolor, a songbird that uses chick-a-dee calls in a variety of social contexts. In two studies, a human observer wore an animal mask that either faced or faced away from the focal bird(s). In Study 1, focal birds were individual titmice captured in a walk-in trap, and the observer stood near the trapped bird. In Study 2, focal birds were titmouse flocks utilizing a feeding station and the observer stood near the station. In both studies, calling behavior was affected by mask orientation. In Study 2, foraging and agonistic behavior were also affected. Titmice can therefore perceive the facial orientation of a potential threat, and this perception affects different behavioral systems, including calling. Our results indicate sensitivity of titmice to the facial orientation of a potential predator in two quite different motivational contexts. This work suggests the possibility of strategic signaling by prey species depending upon the perceptual space of a detected predator.