The presence of conspecific females influences male-mobbing behavior

  • Filipe Cristovão Ribeiro da CunhaEmail author
  • Julio Cesar Rodrigues Fontenelle
  • Michael Griesser
Original Article


Many prey species mob predators to drive them away, thereby reducing their immediate and future predation risk. Given that mobbing is risky, it may also serve as an opportunity for males to advertise their phenotypic quality to females; however, this idea remains untested. We tested this hypothesis with a field experiment in south-eastern Brazil that assessed the response of sexually dimorphic bird species to models of two diurnal owls: a ferruginous pygmy owl (Glaucidium brasilianum), which mainly eats small birds, and a burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia), which mainly eats invertebrates and thus poses a low risk to birds. Across 19 bird species, the mobbing intensity was higher when facing the less-dangerous owl, and more males engaged in predator mobbing than females. The mobbing intensity of males was higher with a larger number of conspecific females present. This finding indicates that males may use mobbing to display their phenotypic quality to females, suggesting that predator mobbing may be influenced by sexual selection.

Significance statement

Predation is an important evolutionary force, often leading to an evolutionary arms race between predators and their prey. A puzzling form of prey-predator interactions is predator mobbing. In a wide range of species, prey individuals approach predators and show characteristic visual and acoustic displays. The primary function of mobbing is to drive the predator away; however, it may also serve as an opportunity to advertise phenotypic quality to conspecifics. Field experiments showed that the mobbing intensity of males increased with the number of conspecific females in the audience, suggesting that female choice may influence the evolution of mobbing behavior.


Anti-predatory behavior Prey-predator interaction Mobbing Sexual selection Birds 



We are grateful to José Hein and the employees from the Cauaia Ranch, especially Cida, Peba, and Warley. We thank Gretchen Wagner, Carel van Schaik Erik Willems, and two anonymous reviewers for the advice and comments.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


FCRC received funding from Universidade Federal de Ouro Preto and Science Without Boarders/Capes (BEX 8920133). MG was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (PPOOP3_123520, PP00P3_150752).

Ethical statement

The study was conducted under research permits issued by the local authorities (Sistema de Autorização e Informação em Biodiversidade).

Supplementary material

265_2017_2267_MOESM1_ESM.docx (24 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 23 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Filipe Cristovão Ribeiro da Cunha
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Julio Cesar Rodrigues Fontenelle
    • 3
  • Michael Griesser
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  2. 2.Instituto de Ciências Exatas e Biológicas, Campus Ouro PretoUniversidade Federal de Ouro PretoOuro PretoBrazil
  3. 3.Instituto Federal de Minas Gerais, Laboratório de Pesquisas Ambientais, Campus Ouro PretoOuro PretoBrazil

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