Acoustic discrimination of predators by black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus)

  • Author(s) / Creator(s)
  • Smaller owls and hawks are high-threat predators to small songbirds, like chickadees, in comparison to larger avian predators
    due to smaller raptors’ agility (Templeton et al. in Proc Natl Acad Sci 104:5479–5482, 2005). The current literature
    focuses only on high- and low-threat predators. We propose that there may be a continuum in threat perception. In the current
    study, we conducted an operant go/no-go experiment investigating black-capped chickadees’ acoustic discrimination of
    predator threat. After obtaining eight hawk and eight owl species’ calls, we assigned each species as: (1) large, low-threat,
    (2) mid-sized, unknown-threat and (3) small-, high-threat predators, according to wingspan and body size. Black-capped
    chickadees were either trained to respond (‘go’) to high-threat predator calls or respond to low-threat predator calls. When
    either low-threat predator calls were not reinforced or high-threat predator calls were not reinforced the birds were to withhold
    responding (‘no-go’) to those stimuli. We then tested transfer of training with additional small and large predator calls,
    as well as with the calls of several mid-sized predators. We confirmed that chickadees can discriminate between high- and
    low-threat predator calls. We further investigated how chickadees categorize mid-sized species’ calls by assessing transfer
    of training to previously non-differentially reinforced (i.e., pretraining) calls. Specifically, transfer test results suggest that
    mid-sized broad-winged hawks were perceived to be of high threat whereas mid-sized short-eared owls were perceived to be
    of low threat. However, mid-sized Cooper’s hawks and northern hawk owls were not significantly differentially responded
    to, suggesting that they are of medium threat which supports the notion that perception of threat is along a continuum rather
    than distinct categories of high or low threat.

  • Date created
  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Type of Item
    Article (Published)
  • DOI
  • License
    Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International