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Wild great tits’ alarm calls prompt vigilant behaviours in free-range chickens

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The ability to use heterospecific alarm calls is adaptive in the wild, as it provides an opportunity to avoid predators. We now know that several species are able to respond to alarm calls intended for others. However, this capacity has never been investigated in domestic animals. The capacity to use heterospecific alarm calls may be relevant for free-range domestic species, especially when they share predators with wild signallers. Using playback experiments, we investigated the vigilance behaviour of free-range naked neck chickens (Gallus gallus domesticus) when confronted with alarm calls (test playbacks) and songs (control playbacks) of a commonly occurring wild passerine, the great tit (Parus major). We found that subjects exhibited an increased vigilance to alarm calls compared to songs, therefore, showing that chickens respond to heterospecific signals as wild birds do. Recently, there has been an increased interest for free-range poultry production, notably because of the benefits of this farming method for chicken welfare. Although future studies are required to address this question, mortality due to predation may be reduced through the implementation of structures in areas frequented by wild heterospecific signallers.

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We are grateful to Blandine Dutour for permission to conduct this study at her farm as well as for providing the accommodation. We also thank three research assistants for helping in data collection. We thank Sarah Walsh and Dora Biro for helpful comments and English language checking. We also thank Kazuhiro Goto and 2 anonymous referees for their comments.


This work was supported by grant from the FYSSEN Foundation (to SD).

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Correspondence to Mylène Dutour.

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This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors. All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. The farmer was responsible for all animal husbandry and care. All subjects returned to foraging activity very quickly (mean ± se: 8.55 ± 2.17 s) following playbacks.

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Dutour, M., Danel, S. Wild great tits’ alarm calls prompt vigilant behaviours in free-range chickens. Anim Cogn 24, 213–216 (2021).

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