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Predator detection and avoidance by starlings under differing scenarios of predation risk

Lookup NU author(s): Claire Devereux, Professor Mark WhittinghamORCiD


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Practically all animals must find food while avoiding predators. An individual's perception of predation risk may depend on many factors, such as distance to refuge and group size, but it is unclear whether individuals respond to different factors in a similar manner. We tested whether flocks of foraging starlings responded in the same way to an increased perception of predation risk by assessing three factors: (1) neighbor distances, (2) habitat obstruction, and (3) recent exposure to a predator. We found that in all three scenarios of increased risk, starlings reduced their interscan intervals (food-searching bouts), which increased the frequency of their vigilance periods. We then examined how one of these factors, habitat obstruction, affected escape speed by simulating an attack with a model predator. Starlings were slower to respond in visually obstructed habitats (long grass swards) and slower when they had their head down in obstructed habitats than when they had their head down in open habitats. In addition, reaction times were quicker when starlings could employ their peripheral fields of vision. Our results demonstrate that different sources of increased risk can generate similar behavioral responses within a species. The degree of visibility in the physical and social environment affects both the actual and perceived risk of predation. © The Author 2005. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the International Society for Behavioral Ecology. All rights reserved.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Devereux CL, Whittingham MJ, Fernandez-Juricic E, Vickery JA, Krebs JR

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Behavioral Ecology

Year: 2006

Volume: 17

Issue: 2

Pages: 303-309

ISSN (print): 1045-2249

ISSN (electronic): 1465-7279

Publisher: Oxford University Press


DOI: 10.1093/beheco/arj032


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