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Abstract

Several studies in behavior have focused in some way on how groups of prey gather and use information about predation risk. Although asymmetries in information about risk exist among members of real groups, we know little about how such uneven information might affect individual or group antipredator decisions. Hence, we studied the use and transfer of information about the risk of predation in small flocks of wintering birds. House finches (Carpodacus mexicanus; 28 groups of three) were held in large enclosures divided into safe and risky patches. We controlled the information about risk available to each individual by conducting attacks with a model hawk that was visible to only a single (informed) bird. Repeated attacks on a single individual did not reduce the amount of feeding by other birds in that patch, although the time to resume feeding after observing a response to an attack event was somewhat longer than after a no attack event. These results suggest that informed individuals impart some information to naïve (uninformed) birds, but this effect was not strong. In fact, the frequent return of informed individuals to feeders after observing uninformed individuals feed suggests that finches relied more on public information regarding safety than their own personal information in deciding when to feed. Group patch choice appeared to be based on a majority-rules decision, although an effect of dominance status was apparent. Our results suggest that subordinate flock members may exert a large influence over group decision-making by acting as spatial ‘anchors’.