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Chickadee behavioural response to varying threat levels of predator and conspecific calls

  • Author(s): Congdon, Jenna V.
  • Hahn, Allison H.
  • McMillan, Neil
  • Avey, Marc T.
  • Sturdy, Christopher B.
  • et al.
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License

Chickadees produce many vocalizations, including chick-a-dee calls which they use as a mobbing call in the presence of predators. Previous research has shown that chickadees produce more D notes in their mobbing calls in response to high-threat predators compared to low-threat predators, and may perceive predator and corresponding mobbing vocalizations as similar. We presented black-capped chickadees with playback of high- and low-threat predator calls and conspecific mobbing calls, and non-threat heterospecific and reversed mobbing calls, to examine vocal and movement behavioural responses. Chickadees produced more chick-a-dee calls in response to playback of calls produced by a high-threat predator compared to calls produced by a low-threat predator, and to reversed high-threat mobbing calls compared to normal (i.e., non-reversed) high-threat mobbing calls. Chickadees also vocalized more in response to all playback conditions consisting of conspecific mobbing calls compared to a silent baseline period. The number of D notes that the subjects produced was similar to previous findings; chickadees produced approximately one to three D notes per call in response to low-threat mobbing calls, and produced more calls containing four to five D notes in response to high-threat mobbing calls, although this difference in the number of D notes per call was not significant. The difference in chickadees’ production of tseet calls across playback conditions approached significance as chickadees called more in response to conspecific mobbing calls, but not in response to heterospecific calls. General movement activity decreased in response to playback of conspecific-produced vocalizations, but increased in response to heterospecific-produced vocalizations, suggesting that chickadees may mobilize more in response to predator playback in preparation for a “fight or flight” situation. These results also suggest that chickadees may produce more mobbing calls in response to high-threat predator vocalizations as an attempt to initiate mobbing with conspecifics, while they produce fewer mobbing calls in response to a low-threat predator that a chickadee could outmaneuver.

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