Anti-Predator Signals in the Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs in Response to Habitat Structure and Different Predator Types


K. A. Jones, Department of Biology, Carleton University, 209 Nesbitt Building, 1125 Colonel By Drive, Ottawa, ON K1S 5B6, Canada. E-mail:


Many animals respond to the presence of predators with conspicuous signals such as alarm calling. These signals may aid the detection of the predator by conspecifics or may deter the predator from attack. The advantages of such signals may be dependent upon predator type and habitat type. We measured signalling behaviours (alarm calling and tail flicking) in foraging chaffinches in response to different predator models (hawk and pigeon control, cat and plastic box as control). In addition we measured responses to a cat model when chaffinches were foraging in different habitat structures (obstructed vs. open). There was no difference in the number of individual chaffinches alarm calling in obstructed vs. open habitat, but birds tail flicked more in open habitat, suggesting that tail flicking acts as a visual signal to the predator or conspecifics and therefore unlike auditory cues is influenced by habitat structure. Chaffinches were also more likely to tail flick in response to the cat model than the other three models. Our results are consistent with the idea that animals may respond to ground predators, which spend a large amount of time observing prey before attack, by using signalling behaviours, such as tail flicking and alarm calling. Further work on prey selection by predators is needed to separate the functions of signalling behaviour in response to predators.