Can you hear me now? The effect of signal degradation on perceived predator threat in black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus)

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  • Avian predators vary in their degree-of-threat to chickadees; for example, smaller owls and hawks are of higher threat to chickadees as they can easily maneuver through the trees, while larger predators cannot. We conducted an operant go/no-go discrimination task to investigate the effect of signal degradation on perceived threat. Chickadees were trained to respond to high-threat northern saw-whet owl (NSWO) or low-threat great horned owl (GHOW) calls that were recorded at short distances, then tested with high- and low-threat owl calls that were rebroadcast and re-recorded across six distances (25m, 50m, 75m, 100m, 150m, and 200m). Subjects were further tested with high-threat and low-threat synthetic tones produced to mimic the natural calls across the six distances. We predicted that birds would perceive and respond to: 1) high-threat predator calls at longer distances compared to low-threat predator calls, and 2) synthetic tones similarly compared to the stimuli that they were designed to mimic. We believed chickadees would continue to perceive and respond to predators that pose a high threat at further distances; however, only responding to low-threat stimuli was consistent across distance recordings. Synthetic tones were treated similarly to natural stimuli but at lower response levels. Thus, the results of this study provide insights into how chickadees perceive threat.

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    Article (Published)
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    Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International