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Abstract

Predation is an important mortality factor in wintering birds. To counter this, birds produce alarm calls in the presence of predators which serve to warn conspecifics. In social hierarchical bird flocks, adults survive the winter better than juveniles and therefore survival strategies probably vary with social status. This study examined the differential responses to alarm calls by free-living willow tits, Parus montanus, in dominance-structured winter flocks in Finland. To explore the age-dependent differences in response to conspecific alarm calls, a series with three alarm calls was played to focal adults and juveniles while they sat in the middle section of a spruce branch. Immediately after the playback, juvenile willow tits moved more often, flew longer distances and changed branches more often than did adults. Previous mammal studies have shown that juveniles are more likely to flee than adults after hearing conspecific alarm calls. The current study demonstrates that similar age-dependent responses to conspecific alarm calls occur in birds also. These findings reflect an increased vulnerability to predators or lack of experience of young birds.