Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 61, Issue 8, pp 1203–1209 | Cite as

No cultural transmission of species recognition between parents and offspring in free-living great tits and blue tits

  • Bo Terning Hansen
  • Lars Erik Johannessen
  • Tore Slagsvold
Original Paper


Imprinting plays a key role in the development of species recognition, with young imprinting upon the morphological characters of their parents. However, the potential role that cultural transmission might play in species recognition remains largely uninvestigated. Great tits (Parus major) and blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) do not normally perceive each other as sexual competitors or potential partners. However, after reciprocal interspecific cross-fostering, both species may perceive individuals of the foster species as potential rivals or mates. Although the experience of being raised by heterospecifics clearly has affected the species recognition of cross-fostered birds, some of them breed naturally with conspecifics. The offspring of such cross-fostered birds (OCF) are hence raised by parents that look like ordinary conspecifics but display deviant species recognition as compared to controls in terms of aggressive response towards rivals. Comparing the aggressive behavior of OCF, cross-fostered birds and controls towards territorial intruders may thus help tease apart the influence of morphological vs behavioral cues of parents in the development of offspring species recognition. To this end, we compared birds from all three treatments with respect to their aggressive response to territorial intruders of both species during the breeding season. OCF and controls did not differ in their pattern of response towards heterospecific and conspecific stimuli. Compared to cross-fostered birds, OCF and controls showed less aggression towards heterospecific intruders, while the response towards conspecific intruders did not differ between treatments. These results demonstrate that both tit species imprint on the morphological characters of their parents, but that parental behavior is not important for the development of species recognition in terms of aggressive response towards territorial intruders.


Sexual imprinting Learning Cross-fostering Animal culture Communicative culture 



We thank everybody who has helped us in the field; the Vestgård family for permission to work on their premises; and Meta M. Landys, Ane Eriksen, and two anonymous referees for comments on an earlier draft of this paper. The Research Council of Norway funded grants for LEJ and BTH. The study complies with Norwegian law, and was conducted under licenses from the Directorate for Nature Management and the National Animal Research Authority in Norway.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bo Terning Hansen
    • 1
  • Lars Erik Johannessen
    • 2
  • Tore Slagsvold
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of OsloOsloNorway
  2. 2.Natural History MuseumUniversity of OsloOsloNorway

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