Object categorization by wild-ranging birds in nest defence

  • Nela NovákováEmail author
  • Petr Veselý
  • Roman Fuchs
Original Paper


Despite object categorization being an important ability for the survival of wild animals, the principles behind this ability have been only scarcely studied using wild-ranging, untrained animals. Reiterating our previous study undertaken with wild-ranging titmice on winter feeders (Nováková et al. Behav Process 143:7–12, 2017), we aimed to test two hypotheses of object recognition proposed by animal psychology studies: the particulate feature theory and recognition by components in the methodological paradigm of nest defence. We tested whether the parents of the red-backed shrike (Lanius collurio) recognize the dummies of the common kestrel (Falco tinnunculus), which is a potential predator of large chicks or fledglings, as a threat in case when their body parts are scrambled. The kestrel dummy was presented with the head at the top, in the middle, and at the bottom of the body. We showed that the shrikes did not consider dummies of a kestrel with an inappropriately placed head as a threat to the nest and attacked it equally scarcely as the harmless control. These results support the theory of recognition by components, presuming that the mutual position of body parts is essential for appropriate recognition of the object. When the body parts were scrambled, most of shrikes were not able to identify the kestrel in such an object despite all local features (eye, beak, colouration, and claws) being present. Nevertheless, shrikes did not consider the scrambled dummies as completely harmless, because they fed their chicks in their presence significantly less often than in the presence of harmless control.


Recognition Categorization Global and local features Nest defence Red-backed shrike Kestrel 



We thank B. A. Christopher Mark Steer for the language improvement. We thank the Grant agency of the University of South Bohemia (048/2019/P) for financial support. We thank the government of the Podyjí National Park and the South Moravian Region for permissions to conduct the experiments within protected areas.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical note

Experiments carried out in this research comply with the current laws of the Czech Republic. Authors are licenced for animal experimentation (Czech Animal Welfare Commission No. 489/01) and for conducting laboratory experiments with titmice (Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, licence no. 8809/2011-30). Faculty of Science of the University of South Bohemia has accredited breeding of titmice (Ministry of Agriculture, licence no. 9103/2009-17210).

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 13 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of ScienceUniversity of South BohemiaČeské BudějoviceCzech Republic

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