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Effect of personality on a bird’s ability to categorize a predator

A wooden dummy that combines features of a dangerous predator (the European sparrowhawk) and a non-threatening pigeon © Petr Veselý

Despite the fact that encounters with predators are always threatening, there is a considerable variablity among individuals in how they cope with these situations.

Jana Nácarová, Petr Veselý, and Roman Fuchs from the Faculty of Science of the University of South Bohemia performed a series of laboratory experiments with wild-caught great tits (Parus major), in which they tested the effect of exploratory behaviour (performance in novel food, object and environment test, startle test) on the ability of individual birds to assess the threat represented by a predator. They presented a wooden dummy of the European sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus), an extremely dangerous predator, and its visual modifications (chimeras), changing the beak or head to be non-threatening (those of a pigeon – Columba livia f. domestica).

Their study showed that the differences between ‘slow’ and ‘fast explorers’ are not very distinct, but that ‘slow explorers’ generally tended to be more cautious in the presence of an unmodified sparrowhawk dummy, while the ‘fast explorers’ tended to observe the dummy. On the contrary, ‘slow explorers’ tended to treat both chimaeras (and the pigeon dummy as well) as less-threatening than ‘fast explorers’. Since ‘slow explorers’ are usually considered to be more sensitive to environmental cues, it came as no surprise that most of them correctly assessed the unmodified sparrowhawk dummy as threatening, while they probably subjected the chimeras to a detailed inspection and were not confused by the presence of sparrowhawk features and assessed them as non-threatening.

Nácarová, J.Veselý, P.Fuchs, R. 2018. Effect of the exploratory behaviour on a bird’s ability to categorize a predator. Behavioural Processes 151: 89–95.

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