Animal Cognition

, Volume 9, Issue 1, pp 47–54 | Cite as

Call recognition in chicks of the Australian brush-turkey (Alectura lathami)

  • Katherine L. Barry
  • Ann Göth
Original Article


Most birds rely on imprinting and experience with conspecifics to learn species-specific recognition cues. Australian brush-turkeys (Alectura lathami) do not imprint and form no bonds with parents. They hatch asynchronously, disperse widely and meet juvenile conspecifics at an unpredictable age. Nevertheless, in captivity, hatchlings respond to other chicks. A recent study, which involved the use of robotic models, found that chicks prefer to approach robots that emit specific visual cues. Here, we evaluated their response to acoustic cues, which usually play an important role in avian social cognition. However, in simultaneous choice tests, neither 2-day-old nor 9-day-old chicks preferred the choice arm with playback of either chick or adult conspecific calls over the arm containing a silent loudspeaker. Chicks of both age classes, however, scanned their surroundings more during chick playback, and the response was thus consistent in younger and older chicks. We also presented the chicks with robotic models, either with or without playback of chick calls. They did not approach the calling robot more than they did the silent robot, indicating that the combination of visual and acoustic cues does not evoke a stronger response. These results will allow further comparison with species that face similar cognitive demands in the wild, such as brood parasites. Such a comparative approach, which is the focus of cognitive ecology, will enable us to further analyse the evolution and adaptive value of species recognition abilities.


Signalling Species recognition Acoustic cues Megapode Cognition Birds 



Many thanks to the numerous volunteers from Macquarie University that assisted with egg collection, and to the landowners on the Central Coast of NSW for allowing us access to incubation mounds on their property. To C. Evans for logistical support and his help with playback exemplars, E. Larsen for building the robot chicks, R. Marshall for veterinary support, W. McTegg for chick maintenance, and to H. Berry, G. Holwell and three anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on the manuscript. A.G. was supported by a Macquarie University Research Fellowship and grants from the Department of Psychology and Macquarie University.


  1. Beecher MD, Stoddard PK, Loesche P (1985) Recognition of parents' voices by young cliff swallows. Auk 102:600–605Google Scholar
  2. Beer CG (1969) Laughing Gull chicks: recognition of their parents' voices. Science 166:1030–1032PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Buitron D, Nuechterlein GL (1993) Parent–young vocal communication in eared grebes. Behaviour 127:1–20Google Scholar
  4. Burger J, Gochfeld M, Boarman WI (1988) Experimental evidence for sibling recognition in common terns (Sterna hirundo). Auk 105:142–148Google Scholar
  5. Davies NB (2000) Cuckoos, cowbirds and other cheats. T. & A.D. Poyser Ltd., LondonGoogle Scholar
  6. Evans RM (1973) Differential responsiveness of young Ring-billed Gulls and Herring Gulls to adult vocalisations of their own and other species. Can J Zool 51:759–770CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Falls JB (1982) Individual recognition by sound in birds. In: Kroodsma DE, Miller EH, Ouellet H (eds) Acoustic communication in birds. Academic Press, New York, pp 237–278Google Scholar
  8. Freeberg TM (1999) Spatial associations provide a context for social learning of courtship patterns in brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater). J Comp Psych 113:327–332CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Freeberg TM, King AP, West MJ (1995) Social malleability in cowbirds (Molothrus ater artemisiae)—species and mate recognition in the first 2 years of life. J Comp Psych 109:357–367CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Göth A (2001) Innate predator recognition in Australian brush-turkey (Alectura lathami, Megapodiidae) hatchlings. Behaviour 138:117–136CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Göth A (2002) Behaviour of Australian Brush-turkey (Alectura lathami, Galliformes: Megapodiidae) chicks following underground hatching. J Ornith 143:477–488CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Göth A, Evans CS (2004) Social responses without early experience: Australian brush-turkey chicks use specific visual cues to aggregate with conspecifics. J Exp Biol 207:2199–2208CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Göth A, Jones DN (2003) Ontogeny of social behaviour in the megapode Australian brush-turkey (Alectura lathami). J Comp Psych 117:36–43CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Göth A, Proctor H (2002) Pecking preferences in hatchlings of the Australian brush-turkey, Alectura lathami (Megapodiidae): the role of food type and colour. Austr J Zool 50:93–102CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Göth A, Vogel U (2002) Social behaviour of two free-ranging chicks of Australian brush-turkey Alectura lathami. Corella 26:1–3Google Scholar
  16. Göth A, Vogel U (2003) Juvenile dispersal and habitat selectivity in the megapode Alectura lathami (Australian brush-turkey). Wildlife Res 30:69–74CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gottlieb G (1981) Roles of early experience in species-specific perceptual development. In: Aslin RN, Alberts JR, Petersen MR (eds) Development of perception: psychobiological perspectives. Academic Press, New York, pp 5–44Google Scholar
  18. Halpin ZT (1991) Kin recognition cues of vertebrates. In: Hepper PG (ed) Kin recognition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 220–258Google Scholar
  19. Hauber ME, Sherman PM, Paprika D (2000) Self-referent phenotype matching in a brood parasite: the armpit effect in brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater). Anim Cogn 3:113–117CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hauber ME, Sherman PM (2001) Self-referent phenotype matching: theoretical considerations and empirical evidence. Trends Neurosc 24:609–616CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hauber ME, Russo SE, Sherman PM (2001) A password for species recognition in a brood-parasitic bird. Proc Roy Soc Lond Ser B 268:1041–1048CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Holmes WG, Sherman PM (1982) The ontogeny of kin recognition in two species of ground squirrels. Am Zool 22:491–517Google Scholar
  23. Jones DN (1988) Construction and maintenance of the incubation mounds of the Australian brush-turkey Alectura lathami. Emu 88:210–218CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Jones DN (1990) Social organization and sexual interactions in Australian brush-turkeys (Alectura lathami): implications of promiscuity in a mound-building megapode. Ethology 84:89–104CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Jones DN, Dekker RW, Roselaar CS (1995) The megapodes. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  26. King AP, Freeberg TM, West MJ (1996) Social experience affects the process and outcome of vocal ontogeny in two populations of cowbirds (Molothrus ater). J Comp Psych 110:276–285CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. King AP, West MJ (1977) Species identification in the North American cowbird: appropriate responses to abnormal song. Science 195:1002–1004PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Lefevre K, Montgomery R, Gaston AJ (1998) Parent–offspring recognition in thick-billed murres (Aves: Alcidae). Anim Behav 55:925–938CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Leonard ML, Horn AG, Brown CR, Fernandez NJ (1997) Parent–offspring recognition in tree swallows, Tachycineta bicolor. Anim Behav 54:1107–1116CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Marler P (1997) Three models of song learning: evidence from behaviour. J Neurobiol 33:501–516CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Palestis BG, Burger J (1999) Individual sibling recognition in experimental broods of common tern chicks. Anim Behav 58:375–381CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Proffitt FM, McLean IG (1991) Recognition of parents calls by chicks of the Snares Crested Penguin. Bird Behav 9:103–113Google Scholar
  33. Searby A, Jouventin P, Aubin T (2004) Acoustic recognition in macaroni penguins: an original signature system. Anim Behav 67:615–625CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Shapiro LJ (1980) Species identification in birds: a review and synthesis. In: Roy A (ed) Species identity and attachment. Garland STPM Press, New York, pp 69–111Google Scholar
  35. Sherman PW (1991) Multiple mating and kin recognition by self-inspection. Ethol Sociobiol 12:377–386CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Shettleworth SJ (1998) Cognition, evolution, and behavior. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  37. Skutch AF (1976) Parent birds and their young. University Texas Press, Austin, TexasGoogle Scholar
  38. Wanker R, Apcin J, Jennerjahn B, Waibel B (1998) Discrimination of different social companions in spectacled parrotlets (Forpus conspicillatus): evidence for individual vocal recognition. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 43:197–202CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Wauters AM, Richard-Yris MA (2002) Mutual influence of the maternal hen's food calling and feeding behavior on the behavior of her chicks. Dev Psychobiol 41:25–36CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. West MJ, King AP, White DJ (2003) The case for developmental ecology. Anim Behav 66:617–622CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Whaling CS, Solis MM, Doupe AJ, Soha JA, Marler P (1997) Acoustic and neural bases for innate recognition of song. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 94:12694–12698CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Wong S (1999) Development and behaviour of hatchlings of the Australian brush-turkey Alectura lathami. Ph.D. thesis, Griffith University, Brisbane, AustraliaGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia

Personalised recommendations