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Birds' Early Warning Systems

Even chipmunks and squirrels pay attention
© Ken-ichi Ueda View Large

A frantic cacophony of loud, rapid birdcalls tells other birds there’s a predator on the prowl. It’s called “mobbing” as birds clamor and dart — back and forth — at the threat. An ongoing study of mobbing and other bird warning behavior suggests that some birds listen in on the warnings of other birds. A wave of warning calls spreads from one hillside to another at more than 100 miles per hour. So vulnerable birds may be clued in to the movements of predators like this Northern Pygmy-Owl, giving them time to take cover.

Today’s show brought to you by the Bobolink Foundation.

Full Transcript

Transcript: 
BirdNote®   
Birds Early Warning Systems 
Written by Bob Sundstrom

This is BirdNote.

[Black-capped Chickadee mobbing sounds: http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/14646]  

A frantic cacophony of loud, rapid birdcalls tells other birds nearby: there’s a predator on the prowl. Mobbing, it’s called, as birds clamor and dart — back and forth — at the threat.

An ongoing study of mobbing and other bird warning behavior now suggests that some birds listen in on the warnings of other birds. A wave of warning calls spreads from one hillside to another at more than 100 miles per hour. So vulnerable birds may be clued in to a predator’s movements before it comes near, giving them time to take cover. Even chipmunks and some squirrels seem to pay heed to the birds’ red alert.

The predator’s size might also be coded in the bird’s alarm calls. Chickadees announce an urgent alarm for a small, agile pygmy-owl that’s a major threat to them: [Repeat mobbing sounds]
You’d think an eagle would cause a louder alarm, but no. Birds of prey are the greatest threat to other birds of similar size. Because they can best match them in a chase. So for the chickadee, the eagle prompts something much more like a polite yawn, maybe. [Black-capped Chickadee call, http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/169032]

For BirdNote, I’m Michael Stein. 

Today’s show brought to you by the Bobolink Foundation. 
###

Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Black-capped Chickadee mobbing [14646] recorded by R C Stein. Black-capped Chickadee call [169032] recorded by M D Medler.
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Dominic Black
© 2015 Tune In to Nature.org      July 2015     Narrator: Michael Stein 
ID #:  mob-02-2015-07-02 mob-02

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