Vivid birds respond more to acoustic signals of predators

Abstract

Because conspicuous morphology such as colorful plumage may increase predation risk, we aimed to see if variation in plumage coloration could explain variation in avian anti-predator behavior. We included several measures of plumage coloration: human perception of vividness from images in field guides, total intensity from reflectance spectra of museum skins, contrasts calculated from physiological models of these spectra parameterized for both raptors and humans, chroma, and spectral saturation. We investigated how well these measurements predicted risk assessment in ten species of birds in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. We quantified how each species responded to playbacks of a predator’s calls and compared this response to that elicited by songs from a non-predatory, sympatric bird. We found that human-determined measures of vividness best predicted anti-predator responses of birds—more vividly colored species responded more to predators than duller species. No spectrophotometric variable explained variation in species reactions to a predator call. Our results suggest that vivid birds may compensate for their conspicuousness by being more responsive to the sound of predators and that more work is needed to better evaluate how animal coloration is quantified in comparative studies.

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Acknowledgments

We thank the UCLA Office of Instructional Development, and the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology for partial support. We thank Greg Grether and Neil Losin for lending equipment and support for the spectrometry analyses, Kathy Molina at the UCLA Dickey Collection for generous assistance in lending and processing specimens, Kimball Garrett at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, David Willard at the Field Museum of Natural History, S. Cardiff and J. Remsen at the Museum of Natural Science at Louisiana State University for lending specimens. We also thank Rafe Boulon for facilitating our field research permits, the staff at Virgin Islands Environmental Resource Station (VIERS) for providing such great hospitality, and the students of the field biology quarter for taking plumage surveys. Thanks also to the Grether lab, Esteban Fernández-Juricic, and three anonymous reviewers for many valuable comments. An NSF Graduate Research Fellowship supported JPD during this study; DTB is supported by the NSF.

Ethical standards

This study was conducted under UCLA ARC Protocol no. 2000-147-31, and permits from the National Park Service (no. VIIS-2009-SCI-0028). All experiments comply with the current laws of the country in which they were performed.

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Correspondence to Daniel T. Blumstein.

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Communicated by E. Fernandez-Juricic

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Journey, L., Drury, J.P., Haymer, M. et al. Vivid birds respond more to acoustic signals of predators. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 67, 1285–1293 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-013-1556-z

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Keywords

  • Anti-predator behavior
  • Coloration
  • Spectrophotometry
  • Playback
  • Behavioral plasticity
  • Plumage vividness