Antarctic skuas recognize individual humans

Abstract

Recent findings report that wild animals can recognize individual humans. To explain how the animals distinguish humans, two hypotheses are proposed. The high cognitive abilities hypothesis implies that pre-existing high intelligence enabled animals to acquire such abilities. The pre-exposure to stimuli hypothesis suggests that frequent encounters with humans promote the acquisition of discriminatory abilities in these species. Here, we examine individual human recognition abilities in a wild Antarctic species, the brown skua (Stercorarius antarcticus), which lives away from typical human settlements and was only recently exposed to humans due to activities at Antarctic stations. We found that, as nest visits were repeated, the skua parents responded at further distances and were more likely to attack the nest intruder. Also, we demonstrated that seven out of seven breeding pairs of skuas selectively responded to a human nest intruder with aggression and ignored a neutral human who had not previously approached the nest. The results indicate that Antarctic skuas, a species that typically inhabited in human-free areas, are able to recognize individual humans who disturbed their nests. Our findings generally support the high cognitive abilities hypothesis, but this ability can be acquired during a relatively short period in the life of an individual as a result of interactions between individual birds and humans.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1

References

  1. Chester SR (1993) Antarctic birds and seals. Wandering Albatross, San Mateo

    Google Scholar 

  2. Davidson GL, Clayton NS, Thornton A (2015) Wild jackdaws, Corvus monedula, recognize individual humans and may respond to gaze direction with defensive behaviour. Anim Behav 108:17–24

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Davis H (2002) Prediction and preparation: pavlovian implications of research animals discriminating among humans. ILAR J 43:19–26

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. Emery NJ (2006) Cognitive ornithology: the evolution of avian intelligence. Philos Trans R Soc B 361:23–43

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Furness RW (1987) The Skua. T & AD Poyser, Staffordshire

    Google Scholar 

  6. Hemmings AD (1990) Human impacts and ecological constraints on skuas. In: Kerry KR, Hempel G (eds) Antarctic ecosystems. Springer, Berlin, pp 224–230

    Google Scholar 

  7. Lee WY, S-i Lee, Choe JC, Jablonski PG (2011) Wild birds recognize individual humans: experiments on magpies, Pica pica. Anim Cogn 14:817–825

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. Marzluff JM, Walls J, Cornell HN, Withey JC, Craig DP (2010) Lasting recognition of threatening people by wild American crows. Anim Behav 79:699–707

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Montgomerie RD, Weatherhead PJ (1988) Risks and rewards of nest defense by parent birds. Q Rev Biol 63:167–187

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Morand-Ferron J, Sol D, Lefebvre L (2007) Food stealing in birds: brain or brawn? Anim Behav 74:1725–1734

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Sol D, Lapiedra O, Gonzalez-Lagos C (2013) Behavioural adjustments for a life in the city. Anim Behav 85:1101–1112

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Spear LB, Howell SNG, Oedekoven CS, Legay D, Bried J (1999) Kleptoparasitism by brown skuas on albatrosses and giant-petrels in the Indian ocean. Auk 116:545–548

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

We specially thank to Dr. Joseph Covi for English help and Jan Esefeld for comments to improve the manuscript. We thank to Sung-Hoon Kim for helping fieldwork and being the “nest intruder”. This research was supported by the Long-Term Ecological Researches on King George Island to Predict Ecosystem Responses to Climate Change (PE14020) funded by Korea Polar Research Institute.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Won Young Lee.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Ethical standards

The experiments comply with the current laws of Republic of Korea.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Discrimination experiment at a brown skua nest (BS03) on January 28, 2015 (ESM_1.mp4). (MP4 6071 kb)

Discrimination experiment at a brown skua nest (BS01) on January 26, 2015 (ESM_2.mp4). (MP4 20094 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Lee, W.Y., Han, Y., Lee, S. et al. Antarctic skuas recognize individual humans. Anim Cogn 19, 861–865 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-016-0970-9

Download citation

Keywords

  • Cognition
  • Human recognition
  • Pre-exposure
  • Brown skua
  • Antarctic bird