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Proc Biol Sci. 2004 Apr 7;271(1540):755-9.

Hornbills can distinguish between primate alarm calls.

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  • 1School of Biology, Bute Medical Buildings, University of St Andrews, St Andrews KY16 9ZU, UK.


Some mammals distinguish between and respond appropriately to the alarm calls of other mammal and bird species. However, the ability of birds to distinguish between mammal alarm calls has not been investigated. Diana monkeys (Cercopithecus diana) produce different alarm calls to two predators: crowned eagles (Stephanoaetus coronatus) and leopards (Panthera pardus). Yellow-casqued hornbills (Ceratogymna elata) are vulnerable to predation by crowned eagles but are not preyed on by leopards and might therefore be expected to respond to the Diana monkey eagle alarm call but not to the leopard alarm call. We compared responses of hornbills to playback of eagle shrieks, leopard growls, Diana monkey eagle alarm calls and Diana monkey leopard alarm calls and found that they distinguished appropriately between the two predator vocalizations as well as between the two Diana monkey alarm calls. We discuss possible mechanisms leading to these responses.

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