Predator odour recognition and avoidance in a songbird
*Correspondence author. Department of Animal Population Biology, Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW), PO Box 40, 6666 ZG Heteren, The Netherlands. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- 1Although the ability to detect chemical cues is widespread in many organisms, it is surprising how little is known about the role of chemical communication in avian life histories. Nowadays, growing evidence suggests that birds can use olfaction in several contexts. However, we still do not know the role of bird olfaction in one of the most important determinants of survival, predator detection.
- 2Blue tits, Cyanistes caeruleus L., were exposed to chemical cues of: (i) mustelid (predator), (ii) quail (odorous control); or (iii) water (odourless control) inside the nest-box where they were provisioning 8-day-old nestlings.
- 3We show that blue tits were able to detect the chemical cues and showed antipredatory behaviours to cope with the risk of predation. Birds delayed their entry to the nest-box, and they perched on the hole of the nest-box and refused to enter more times when they found predator scent than control scents inside the nest-box. In addition, birds decreased the time spent inside the predator-scented nest-box when feeding nestlings.
- 4The discovery of the ability of birds to use chemical cues of predators to accurately assess predation may help to understand many aspects of bird life histories that have been neglected until now.