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Responses of urban crows to con- and hetero-specific alarm calls in predator and non-predator zoo enclosures

Abstract

Urban animals and birds in particular are able to cope with diverse novel threats in a city environment such as avoiding novel, unfamiliar predators. Predator avoidance often includes alarm signals that can be used also by hetero-specifics, which is mainly the case in mixed-species flocks. It can also occur when species do not form flocks but co-occur together. In this study we tested whether urban crows use alarm calls of conspecifics and hetero-specifics (jackdaws, Corvus monedula) differently in a predator and a non-predator context with partly novel and unfamiliar zoo animal species. Birds were tested at the Tiergarten Schönbrunn in the city of Vienna by playing back con- and hetero-specific alarm calls and control stimuli (great tit song and no stimuli) at predator (wolf, polar bear) and non-predator (eland antelope and cranes, peccaries) enclosures. We recorded responses of crows as the percentage of birds flying away after hearing the playback (out of those present before the playback) and as the number of vocalizations given by the present birds. A significantly higher percentage of crows flew away after hearing either con- or hetero-specific alarm calls, but it did not significantly differ between the predator and the non-predator context. Crows treated jackdaw calls just as crow calls, indicating that they make proper use of hetero-specific alarm calls. Responding similarly in both contexts may suggest that the crows were uncertain about the threat a particular zoo animal represents and were generally cautious. In the predator context, however, a high percentage of crows also flew away upon hearing the great tit control song which suggests that they may still evaluate those species which occasionally killed crows as more dangerous and respond to any conspicuous sound.

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Acknowledgements

We are very thankful to all anonymous reviewers for helpful comments to the manuscript. We thank the Tiergarten Schönbrunn for supporting this study, Georgine Szipl for providing the playback stimuli, Florian Uhl for providing demographic information on the study population and Alexandra Průchová for help with data collection. This project was supported by Aktion Czech Republic—Austria (Project No. 70-p9) and University of South Bohemia (Project No. 159/2013/P). CS was supported by the Vienna Science and Technology Fund (WWTF) through project CS11-008. TB was supported by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) Project Y366-B17.

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Correspondence to Petr Veselý.

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This article is part of the Special Issue Animal cognition in a human-dominated world.

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Bílá, K., Beránková, J., Veselý, P. et al. Responses of urban crows to con- and hetero-specific alarm calls in predator and non-predator zoo enclosures. Anim Cogn 20, 43–51 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-016-1047-5

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Keywords

  • Alarm call
  • Carrion crow
  • Conspecific signal
  • Hetero-specific signal
  • Communication
  • Predator avoidance
  • Inter-specific signalling