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A kestrel without hooked beak and talons is not a kestrel for the red-backed shrike (Lanius collurio)


Birds are strongly motivated to recognize various predators to secure survival and reproductive success. Thus, predator recognition provides a useful tool for the investigation of the process of discrimination and categorization in non-trained animals. The most important role in this process is usually attributed to the prominent unique features shared by all members within the wider category of predators (sharp teeth or beaks, claws, talons and conspicuous eyes). However, birds are also able to discriminate between particular predator species according to their species-specific features (based mainly on colouration). We manipulated general raptor salient features (hooked beak, talons with claws and eyes with supraorbital ridges) and/or species-specific plumage colouration on the dummy of a Eurasian kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) to investigate their importance in the recognition process of the red-backed shrikes (Lanius collurio) during nest defence. We showed that the presence of general raptor salient features is necessary for the recognition of a predator. The kestrel dummy with natural species-specific colouration with altered raptor salient features was treated by shrikes as a harmless bird. Nevertheless, pronounced changes in colouration also prevented successful recognition of the dummy as a kestrel, even when raptor salient features of a raptor were present.

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Original data are provided in the Supplement (Supplemental Material Table S1).


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We thank Christopher Mark Steer for his proof reading and two anonymous referees and editor for their helpful comments on the manuscript.


This study was supported by University of South Bohemia (048/2019/P) and Czech Academy of Sciences (IAA601410803).

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MN participated in the design of the experiments, conducted most of the experiments, conducted the data analyses and participated in the manuscript preparation. TS participated in the experiments, data analyses and manuscript preparation. PV participated in the data analyses and in the manuscript preparation. RF participated in the design of experiments and manuscript preparation. All the authors have read the final version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Petr Veselý.

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All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. Permission for studies on wild red-backed shrikes was granted by the Ministry of the Environment of the Czech Republic (13842/2011-30), the licenses permitting experimentation with animals no. CZ01629 and CZ02766 were offered by the Ministry of the Agriculture of the Czech Republic. This research adhered to the ASAB/ABS guidelines for the use of animals in research and to the current laws of the Czech Republic.

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Němec, M., Kučerová, T., Veselý, P. et al. A kestrel without hooked beak and talons is not a kestrel for the red-backed shrike (Lanius collurio). Anim Cogn 24, 957–968 (2021).

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  • Categorization
  • Discrimination
  • Salient features
  • Colouration
  • Nest defence