Predator detection and avoidance by starlingsunder differing scenarios of predation risk

Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) Science Article 5


Practically all animals must find food while avoiding predators. An individual’s perception of predation risk may depend on manyfactors, such as distance to refuge and group size, but it is unclear whether individuals respond to different factors in a similarmanner. We tested whether flocks of foraging starlings responded in the same way to an increased perception of predation risk byassessing three factors: (1) neighbor distances, (2) habitat obstruction, and (3) recent exposure to a predator. We found that inall three scenarios of increased risk, starlings reduced their interscan intervals (food-searching bouts), which increased thefrequency of their vigilance periods. We then examined how one of these factors, habitat obstruction, affected escape speedby 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. Inaddition, reaction times were quicker when starlings could employ their peripheral fields of vision. Our results demonstrate thatdifferent sources of increased risk can generate similar behavioral responses within a species. The degree of visibility in thephysical and social environment affects both the actual and perceived risk of predation. Key words: interscan interval, predationrisk, starlings, vigilance, visibility, vision.

Claire L. Devereux, Mark J. Whittingham, Esteban Fernandez-Juricic, Juliet A. Vickery, and John R. Krebs, Behav Ecol 17:303-309 (2006)

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