Female blue tits sing in the face of danger

Approaching predators cause the female blue tit to sing and not to fall quiet. (Photo: Katharina Mahr/Vetmeduni Vienna)

Blue Tits  1

Birdsong has long been associated with courtship or competitive behaviour. And males were often considered to be a more active singing partner than females. A team of researchers from the Vetmeduni Vienna now shows that female singing behaviour is in fact much more common than had been previously assumed. The researchers have for the first time demonstrated a connection between the song of female blue tits and the presence of a predator. This singing appears to be about their own defence and not that of their nest. The study was published in the Journal of Ornithology.

Until now, the singing behaviour of songbirds had been mainly associated with competitive behaviour and the search for a partner. Moreover, males had long been considered to be the more active singer. Females were compared to the behaviour of the males and were seen as relatively “lazy” with regard to singing. These assumptions had also been applied to one of the most prominent local songbirds, namely, the blue tit.

When female blue tits sing

Herbert Hoi and Katharina Mahr of the Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology at Vetmeduni Vienna have demonstrated for the first time that female blue tits sing in the presence of a predator.

Vocalization did not serve as an alarm, however, nor was it limited to females. The researchers used stuffed dummies of two predatory types in order to provoke a reaction from the birds. “We presented the nest of blue tits either with a stuffed sparrow hawk, a bird of prey, or an Aesculapian snake and analysed the reactions mainly of female blue tits,” said Hoi.

Blue tits sing for themselves when their life is in danger

The team from Vetmeduni Vienna, together with Carlo Seifert of the University of South Bohemia, for the first time documented vocalizations of female songbirds in danger situations. Their song strongly resembled that of the males also present in the simulated predation event. Both sexes, however, reacted only to the threat from the bird of prey and not the snake.

It is interesting that the blue tits react to the threat by singing. “The animals may be indicating a heightened ability to escape. They show the predator that they have seen it and can flee at any time”, Hoi says.

Song could also be a sign of physiological stress or encouragement

Hoi believes there could be another, for people easily understandable, explanation. The presence of a predator is very stressful. The singing behaviour could therefore simply be an endocrinological response of the body or, to quote Konrad Lorenz, a “displacement activity”.

 More information: press release "Female blue tits sing in the face of danger". 2

on )

Kategorie: _Topics, Press release, Research, Home page, Services, Further education, _Position


Acrobat Reader zum Anzeigen von PDF Dokumenten hier kostenlos downloaden 6