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To Mob or Not to Mob

Who’s a danger and who’s not?

When a bird of prey flies over, a flock of crows may dive-bomb the predator and give it a noisy escort out of town. An Eastern Kingbird, like this one, will clamp its feet onto the back of a hawk to send it packing. How do they know which birds to chase off and which to ignore? By genetic wiring, or instinct, but also learning. By watching their parents in the act of mobbing, youngsters gain critical knowledge that may save their own skin.
Support for BirdNote comes from Song Bird Coffee, offering bird-friendly organic shade-grown coffee for holiday giving. More at birdnote.org/songbird.

Full Transcript

Transcript: 

BirdNote®

WTs: Mobbing — Little birds team up to ward off predators. But how do they know?

To Mob or Not to Mob

Written by Bob Sundstrom

[American Crow alarm calls, http://www.xeno-canto.org/379659]
This is BirdNote.
When an eagle or hawk flies overhead, a flock of crows may fly up to meet it, dive-bombing the predator and giving it a noisy escort out of town. [American Crow alarm calls, http://www.xeno-canto.org/379659]
An Eastern Kingbird will actually clamp its feet onto the back of a much larger hawk to send it packing.  [Eastern Kingbird alarm call http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/7968 ,0.14-16.]
Birds of different species will even team up to mob the big predators.
But how do they know which big birds to chase off and which to ignore?
[[honking of Canada Goose https://macaulaylibrary.org/asset/70350341]]
And how do they know to ignore birds like vultures that, to us, look so much like hawks or eagles overhead?
[[Northern Mockingbird http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/23403 around 00:15]]
Scientists think birds owe this fine-tuned ability to identify threats to both instinct and learning. Experiments suggest that young birds may be genetically wired to avoid risks. But they need to watch experienced birds in action to refine their know-how. By watching their parents in the act of mobbing, youngsters gain critical knowledge that may save their own skin.
So when a mobbing flock of crows teams up on an eagle, they’re not only drawing attention and chasing off a potential danger [American Crow alarm calls, http://www.xeno-canto.org/379659]  they may also be giving young crows an important lesson — in bird identification.
For BirdNote, I’m Michael Stein.

Support for BirdNote comes from Songbird Coffee. Offering bird-friendly, organic shade-grown coffee for holiday giving. More at BirdNote.org/Songbird.

                                                                               ###
Bird sounds provided by Xeno-Canto and The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by Lance A. M. Benner, James W Kimball, Keith Boardway and Dale A Zimmerman.
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Managing Producer: Jason Saul
Associate Producer: Ellen Blackstone
© 2017 Tune In to Nature.org   November 2017   Narrator: Michael Stein

ID#       mob-03-2017-11-17    mob-03        

 

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