Nest predation is a major determinant of fitness in birds and costly nest defence behaviours have evolved in order to reduce nest predation. Some avian studies have suggested that predator recognition is innate whereas others have stressed the importance of learning. However, none of these studies controlled for the genetic origin of the populations investigated and the effect of unfamiliarity with the predator. Here we determined whether experience with a nest predator is a prerequisite for nest defence by comparing predator recognition responses between two isolated but genetically similar Seychelles warbler (Acrocephalus sechellensis) populations, only one of which had experience of the egg predating Seychelles fody (Foudia sechellarum). Individuals in the predator–free population significantly reduced nest guarding compared to individuals in the population with the predator, which indicates that this behaviour was adjusted to the presence of nest predators. However, recognition responses (measured as both alarm call and attack rates) towards a mounted model of the fody were equally strong in both populations and significantly higher than the responses towards either a mounted familiar non–predator and a mounted, novel, non–predator bird species. Responses did not differ with a warbler's age and experience with the egg predator, indicating that predator recognition is innate.