You sound familiar: carrion crows can differentiate between the calls of known and unknown heterospecifics

Abstract

In group-living animals, it is adaptive to recognize conspecifics on the basis of familiarity or group membership as it allows association with preferred social partners and avoidance of competitors. However, animals do not only associate with conspecifics but also with heterospecifics, for example in mixed-species flocks. Consequently, between-species recognition, based either on familiarity or even individual recognition, is likely to be beneficial. The extent to which animals can distinguish between familiar and unfamiliar heterospecifics is currently unclear. In the present study, we investigated the ability of eight carrion crows to differentiate between the voices and calls of familiar and unfamiliar humans and jackdaws. The crows responded significantly more often to unfamiliar than familiar human playbacks and, conversely, responded more to familiar than unfamiliar jackdaw calls. Our results provide the first evidence that birds can discriminate between familiar and unfamiliar heterospecific individuals using auditory stimuli.

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Acknowledgments

We are grateful to Thomas Bugnyar, Ludwig Huber, and Kurt Kotrschal for their support and Karl-Heinz Siebenrock, Carlos David Santos, and Monika Krome for enabling us access to the jackdaw aviary in Radolfzell and András Péter for the Solomon Coder. We also would like to thank Stephen E. G. Lea and two anonymous referees for valuable comments on the manuscript, Thomas Walsdorff for help with filming and thanks to Ulli Aust, Katharina Kramer, Alexandra Christian, Nadja Kavcik, Vera Brust, Irene Campderrich, Gesche Fitch, Anna Ria Holtmann for providing the stimuli. The project was funded by the FWF project (P19574 AND START2008-1013) the ESF EUROCORES program TECT: COCOR (I105-G11). Permanent support was provided by the “Verein der Förderer” and the Herzog von Cumberland Stiftung.

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Correspondence to Claudia A. F. Wascher.

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Wascher, C.A.F., Szipl, G., Boeckle, M. et al. You sound familiar: carrion crows can differentiate between the calls of known and unknown heterospecifics. Anim Cogn 15, 1015–1019 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-012-0508-8

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Keywords

  • Interspecies recognition
  • Familiarity
  • Vocal information
  • Playback
  • Carrion crows