Mobbing calls signal predator category in a kin group-living bird species

Michael Griesser

Abstract

Many prey species gather together to approach and harass their predators despite the associated risks. While mobbing, prey usually utter calls and previous experiments have demonstrated that mobbing calls can convey information about risk to conspecifics. However, the risk posed by predators also differs between predator categories. The ability to communicate predator category would be adaptive because it would allow other mobbers to adjust their risk taking. I tested this idea in Siberian jays Perisoreus infaustus, a group-living bird species, by exposing jay groups to mounts of three hawk and three owl species of varying risks. Groups immediately approached to mob the mount and uttered up to 14 different call types. Jays gave more calls when mobbing a more dangerous predator and when in the presence of kin. Five call types were predator-category-specific and jays uttered two hawk-specific and three owl-specific call types. Thus, this is one of the first studies to demonstrate that mobbing calls can simultaneously encode information about both predator category and the risk posed by a predator. Since antipredator calls of Siberian jays are known to specifically aim at reducing the risk to relatives, kin-based sociality could be an important factor in facilitating the evolution of predator-category-specific mobbing calls.

Footnotes

    • Received April 1, 2009.
    • Accepted April 27, 2009.
View Full Text