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Ravens respond to unfamiliar corvid alarm calls

Abstract

Eavesdropping on heterospecific alarm calls is a crucial source of information for many species (including corvids) and it is effective especially if these species form mixed-species flocks, have a similar spectrum of predators, and share habitat. Previous research on wild common ravens (Corvus corax) has shown that they react to the jackdaws’ alarm call. We tested their responses to the heterospecific alarm calls of various bird species differing in familiarity and taxonomical relatedness to ravens. Two other corvid species (the blue jay Cyanocitta cristata and the European jay Garrulus glandarius) and two non-corvids (the black-headed gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus and the laughing gull Leucophaeus atricilla) were presented. We played back the tested alarm calls to free-ranging ravens at a feeding site and observed the ravens’ responses to particular stimuli. We observed three behavioural responses made by the tested ravens: flying away, freezing (ceasing to move and crouching on the ground), and vigilance (observing the surroundings). The ravens responded to the Eurasian jay alarm call by freezing and flying away and to the blue jay alarm call by freezing and vigilance. The laughing gull alarm call induced mostly vigilance and the black-headed gull alarm call did not elicit any reaction. The responses to the alarm calls of both jays were similar to the responses to the playbacks of conspecific alarm calls, used as control (as well as to the response to a jackdaw alarm call from the previous study), which may point to the existence of a specific corvid characteristic in their alarm calls. The response to the alarm calls of both American species included vigilance, which suggests an uncertainty about the meaning of the call.

Zusammenfassung

Kolkraben reagieren auf Alarmrufe von anderen Rabenvögeln, selbst wenn diese unbekannt sind

Viele Vögel können über das Belauschen der Alarmrufe von anderen Arten wichtige Informationen über potentielle Gefahrensituationen sammeln, besonders wenn sie mit diesen Arten gemeinsame Gruppen bilden, ein ähnliches Spektrum von Raubfeinden haben, und sich ein Habitat teilen. Jüngste Forschung hat gezeigt, dass Kolkraben auf die Alarmrufe von Dohlen reagieren. Wir haben hier die Reaktion von Raben auf die Alarmrufe von mehreren Arten getestet, die den Raben unterschiedlich gut bekannt sind bzw. die mit Raben unterschiedlich eng verwandt sind. Wir verwendeten hierzu zwei Arten von Rabenvögeln (Blauhäher Cyanocitta cristata und Eichelhäher Garrulus glandarius) und zwei Möwenarten (Lachmöwe Chroicocephalus ridibundus und Aztekenmöwe Leucophaeus atricilla). Wir spielten die Alarmrufe dieser Arten freifliegenden Kolkraben vor, während diese sich an einem Futterplatz aufhielten und beobachteten folgende Reaktion der Raben auf die Alarmrufe: Abflug, Stillstand (Innehalten in Bewegung und Niederbücken Richtung Boden), oder Wachsamkeit (visuelles Erkunden der Umgebung). Auf Eichelhäheralarm reagierten Raben mit Stillstand und Abflug, auf Blauhäheralarm mit Stillstand und Wachsamkeit, auf Alarm von Aztekenmöwen mit Wachsamkeit, und auf Lachmöwen zeigten sie keine messbare Reaktion. Die Reaktionen auf beide Häherarten waren ähnlich wie die Reaktion auf arteigene Alarmrufe, die als Kontrolle dienten (ebenso wie die Reaktion auf Alarmrufe von Dohlen in der vorigen Studie), was auf spezielle Merkmale innerhalb der Alarmrufe von Rabenvögeln deutet. Die Reaktion auf die Alarmrufe der beiden amerikanischen Arten beinhaltete Wachsamkeit, was auf eine Unsicherheit in Bezug auf die Bedeutung der Rufe hinweist.

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Data availability

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

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Acknowledgements

We thank the Cumberland Wildpark, Grünau im Almtal for allowing us to conduct the experiments within the park and the ‘Verein der Förderer der Konrad Lorenz Forschungsstelle’ for permanent support. We thank Christian Blum for providing the raven playback stimuli and Alexandra Průchová and Jan Špička for the help with data collection. This research adhered to the ASAB/ABS guidelines for the use of animals in research and to the current laws of the Republic of Austria. We are thankful to Christopher Mark Steer for English editing of the manuscript.

Funding

This study was supported by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) project P29705 and by the Grant agency of the University of South Bohemia (048/2019/P).

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Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

MD participated in the design of experiments, collected most of the data and wrote most of the manuscript. MS participated in the design of experiments, prepared the playback stimuli, participated in the data collection and manuscript preparation. JN participated in the data collection and preparation of the manuscript. PV participated in the design of experiments, conducted the data analyses and wrote the manuscript. TB participated in the design of experiments and manuscript preparation. All authors have read the final version of the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Marika Davídková.

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Ethics statement

All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. Permission for playback studies on wild ravens was granted by the Austrian Ministry for Science, Research and Economy (BMWFW-66.006/0016-WF/II/3b/2014).

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Communicated by F. Bairlein.

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Davídková, M., Veselý, P., Syrová, M. et al. Ravens respond to unfamiliar corvid alarm calls. J Ornithol 161, 967–975 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10336-020-01781-w

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10336-020-01781-w

Keywords

  • Antipredator behaviour
  • Corvid
  • Gull
  • Heterospecific call
  • Jay
  • Raven