Differential Responsiveness of Great Tit Nestlings, Parus major, to Natural Auditory Stimuli

Response-strength as Related to Stimulus Significance and Previous Individual Exposure


Department of Psychology, Sub-department of Ethology, Paradisgatan 5, S-223 50 Lund, Sweden.


In one field and two laboratory experiments, wild, wild-captured and partly laboratory-raised 16 to 18-day old great tit nestlings were subjected to repeated presentations of auditory stimuli of varying biological significance. The frequency of occurrence of the stimuli in the study area was censused. — All nestlings showed strong aversive reactions to the ‘seeet’ alarm-call of the species. It is concluded that a selective responsiveness to this call develops independently of previous exposure to it. A functional interpretation of this reaction is derived from its presumed adaptive value. Three hypothetical interpretations are suggested to explain its emergence in the individual nestling; The ‘seeet’-call elicits aversive reactions because of, 1) its novelty, 2) its intensity in terms of relative concentration of energy over its frequency range and 3) its contrasting acoustic structure compared to the nestlings' begging-call which has become strongly associated with approach behavior.