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Habitat affects escape behaviour and alarm calling in Common Starlings Sturnus vulgaris

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Mark WhittinghamORCiD


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Animals should adapt their escape behaviour to both physical and social surroundings in order to maximize their probability of survival. Cover can be both obstructive, reducing the visibility of the surroundings and hindering escape, and protective, providing refuge. We investigated how the provision of cover (long grass) affected (1) the escape behaviour and (2) the alarm call behaviour of Common Starlings Sturnus vulgaris responding to a model hawk during a simulated attack. Starlings always retreated away from the predator and sometimes alarm-called. Their escape trajectory was close to the ground when escaping in long grass, which could be explained by either tall swards hindering take-off or such swards being used as protective cover. On short grass their escape trajectory was much steeper (> 45°). We also investigated the use of alarm calls in Starlings according to predictions arising from the costs and benefits to callers and receivers. Callers could benefit from using alarm calls through dilution or confusion if their use initiates flock departures, thus reducing their probability of being targeted. If there is no cost to the producer of alarm calls we predicted that detectors should call at all times to gain these benefits (i.e. irrespective of grass length), but if their use is costly we predicted that they would be used only when the benefits outstrip the costs. In this case we would predict that alarm calls would be given when other (visual) signals were impaired on long grass but not when they were effective on short grass. Starlings used alarm calls on long grass when visibility was reduced more frequently than on short grass, suggesting that calling has a cost to the producer. The contrasting escape strategies of Starlings in relation to a relatively small (10 cm) change in grass height demonstrates the potential importance of habitat structure in determining predation risk. © 2008 The Authors.

Publication metadata

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

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Ibis

Year: 2008

Volume: 150

Issue: S1

Pages: 191-198

Print publication date: 01/08/2008

ISSN (print): 0019-1019

ISSN (electronic): 1474-919X

Publisher: British Ornithologists' Union


DOI: 10.1111/j.1474-919X.2008.00835.x


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