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Seasonal variation in mobbing behaviour of passerine birds

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Abstract

When they detect a predator, many birds exhibit mobbing behaviour and produce mobbing calls that quickly draw other prey against the predator. This anti-predator strategy often involves several species and, therefore, implies heterospecific communication. As fledging and nestling stages could be particularly targeted by predators, a high mobbing intensity is to be expected during the breeding season. While recognizing other species’ mobbing calls is critical to setting up this behaviour, to date, we have no information about the perception of these calls with regard to the season. Here, we used playbacks of mobbing calls to study the variation in response of the Great Tit (Parus major) and the Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) exposed to the mobbing calls of two heterospecific species, the Eurasian Nuthatch (Sitta europaea), and the Eurasian Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes). To investigate mobbing response seasonality, we conducted playback experiments during spring (breeding season) and autumn (non-breeding season). Contrary to most previous studies, we found that mobbing intensity was greater in autumn than in spring. Additionally, although neither Nuthatch nor Wren is related to the Tit family, we found that both Tit species responded more to the former than the latter species. At the heterospecific communication level, this study demonstrates a previously unsuspected level of complexity in the use of mobbing calls.

Zusammenfassung

Saisonale Schwankungen im Hassverhalten von Sperlingsvögeln.

Nach Entdecken eines Prädators zeigen viele Vögel Hassverhalten und produzieren Hassrufe, die schnell andere Beutetiere auf den Prädator lenken. Eine solche Anti-Prädator-Strategie bezieht oft mehrere Arten ein und setzt daher heterospezifische Kommunikation voraus. Da Prädatoren es besonders auf Flügglinge und Nestlinge abgesehen haben könnten, ist während der Brutzeit eine hohe Hassintensität zu erwarten. Während es für das Hassverhalten entscheidend ist, die Hassrufe von anderen Arten zu erkennen, fehlen bislang Informationen, inwieweit sich die Wahrnehmung dieser Rufe im Saisonverlauf verändert. Hier haben wir Playbacks von Hassrufen benutzt, um die Schwankungen in der Reaktion von Kohlmeisen (Parus major) und Blaumeisen (Cyanistes caeruleus) auf die Hassrufe zweier anderer Arten, Kleiber (Sitta europaea) und Zaunkönig (Troglodytes troglodytes), zu untersuchen. Um die Saisonabhängigkeit der Hassantwort zu erforschen, haben wir Playbackexperimente im Frühjahr (d.h. während der Brutzeit) und im Herbst (d.h. außerhalb der Brutzeit) durchgeführt. Im Gegensatz zu den meisten vorherigen Studien fanden wir, dass das Hassverhalten im Herbst intensiver war als im Frühjahr. Zudem fanden wir, dass beide Meisenarten stärker auf die Rufe des Kleibers als auf die des Zaunkönigs reagierten, obwohl keine der beiden Arten mit den Meisen verwandt ist. Auf der heterospezifischen Kommunikationsebene zeigt diese Studie eine zuvor unvermutete Komplexität der Verwendung von Hassrufen auf.

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Acknowledgments

This study was supported by French Ministry of Research and Higher Education funding (to M.D. PhD grants 2015–2018). It was conducted with the approval of the Prefecture du Rhône, in accordance with the current laws in France. We thank David Wheatcroft for providing the wren mobbing call data. We thank two anonymous referees whose comments helped us greatly improve the quality of this article. The datasets generated during and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author following a reasonable request.

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Correspondence to Mylène Dutour.

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Communicated by S. Kipper.

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Dutour, M., Cordonnier, M., Léna, JP. et al. Seasonal variation in mobbing behaviour of passerine birds. J Ornithol 160, 509–514 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10336-019-01630-5

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10336-019-01630-5

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