Birds Call to Warn Friends and Enemies

Dec 03, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Birds' alarm calls serve both to alert other birds to danger and to warn off predators. And some birds can pull a ventriloquist's trick, singing from the side of their mouths, according to a UC Davis study.

Many animals respond vocally when they detect predators, but it's not clear to whom they are signaling, said Jessica Yorzinski, a graduate student in animal behavior at UC Davis who conducted the study with Gail Patricelli, professor of evolution and ecology. They might be warning others of the threat, but they might also be telling the , "I've seen you."

Yorzinski used a ring of directional microphones around a birdcage to record the songs of dark-eyed juncos, yellow-rumped warblers, house finches and other birds as they were shown a stuffed owl. All the birds were captured in the wild, tested, banded and released within 24 hours.

Overall, the birds' alarm calls were relatively omnidirectional, suggesting that they were given to warn other birds in the vicinity. However, the main species tested -- juncos, warblers and finches -- all showed an ability to focus their calls in the direction of the owl, so these calls could also function to warn off a predator.

House finches were the least directional in their calls. They are also the most social of the species tested, Yorzinski noted.

Some of the birds were able to project a call in one direction while their beak was pointed in another.

"It's like talking out of the corner of their mouths," Yorzinski said. In some cases the birds may see better sideways than forwards, although Yorzinski did record evidence of projecting calls both forward and to either side.

"It's not clear how they're accomplishing this," Yorzinski said.

The study was published Nov. 18 in the journal and was funded by the National Science Foundation.

Provided by UC Davis (news : web)

Explore further: The influence of the Isthmus of Panama in the evolution of freshwater shrimps in America

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Island monkeys do not recognize big cat calls

Jan 17, 2008

Monkeys living on an island without big cat predators do not show any particular alarm when recorded tiger growls are played to them, according to research by a UC Davis graduate student. The pig-tailed langurs do, however, ...

Migrating songbirds learn survival tips on the fly

Jun 25, 2008

Migrating songbirds take their survival cues from local winged residents when flying through unfamiliar territory, a new Queen's University-led study shows. It's a case of "When in Rome, do as the Romans do," ...

'Nervous' birds take more risks

Oct 26, 2007

Scientists have shown that birds with higher stress levels adopt bolder behaviour than their normally more relaxed peers in stressful situations. A University of Exeter research team studied zebra finches, which had been ...

Recommended for you

Dogs hear our words and how we say them

3 hours ago

When people hear another person talking to them, they respond not only to what is being said—those consonants and vowels strung together into words and sentences—but also to other features of that speech—the ...

Amazonian shrimps: An underwater world still unknown

4 hours ago

A study reveals how little we know about the Amazonian diversity. Aiming to resolve a scientific debate about the validity of two species of freshwater shrimp described in the first half of the last century, ...

Factors that drive sexual traits

6 hours ago

Many male animals have multiple displays and behaviours to attract females; and often the larger or greater the better.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.