An Experimental Study of Predator Recognition in Great Tit Fledglings


C. Kullberg Tovetorp Research Station, Stockholm University, SE-640 50 Björnlunda, Sweden. E-mail:


Studies of naturally predator-naïve adult birds (finches on predator-free islands) and birds experimentally hand reared in isolation from predators indicate that birds can recognise predators innately; that is, birds show anti-predator behaviour without former experience of predators. To reduce predation risk efficiently during the vulnerable fledgling period, we would predict an innate response to be fully developed when the chicks leave the nest. However, 30-day-old naïve great tit fledglings (Parus major) did not respond differently to a model of a perched predator than to a similarly sized model of a non-predator. Although chicks showed distress responses such as warning calls and freezing behaviour, they did not differentiate between the stimuli. In contrast, wild-caught first-year birds (4 mo old) and adults responded differentially to the two stimuli. Lack of recognition of a perched predator might be one explanation for the high mortality rate found in newly fledged great tits. Our results imply that parental care is not only important for food provisioning, but also to reduce predation risk during the time when fledglings are most vulnerable.