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Anim Cogn. 2015 Sep;18(5):1155-64. doi: 10.1007/s10071-015-0888-7. Epub 2015 Jun 30.

Titmouse calling and foraging are affected by head and body orientation of cat predator models and possible experience with real cats.

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Department of Psychology, University of Tennessee, Austin Peay Building 301B, Knoxville, TN, 37996, USA.


Although anti-predator behavior systems have been studied in diverse taxa, less is known about how prey species detect and assess the immediate threat posed by a predator based on its behavior. In this study, we evaluated a potential cue that some species may utilize when assessing predation threat-the predator's body and head orientation. We tested the effect of this orientation cue on signaling and predation-risk-sensitive foraging of a prey species, tufted titmice (Baeolophus bicolor). Earlier work revealed sensitivity of titmice and related species to the presence of predator stimuli. Here, we manipulated cat models to face either toward or away from a food source preferred by titmice and then measured titmouse calling and seed-taking behavior. Titmice showed greater feeder avoidance when the cat predator models faced the feeder, compared to when the models faced away from the feeder or when titmice were exposed to control stimuli. Titmouse calling was also sensitive to predator head/body orientation, depending upon whether titmice were from sites where real cats had been observed or not. This study experimentally demonstrated that both calling and foraging of prey species can be affected by the head and body orientation of an important terrestrial predator. Prey species may therefore signal in strategic ways to conspecifics not just about predator presence, but also urgency of threat related to the more subtle cue of the head and body orientation of the predator. These findings hold potential implications for understanding animal cognition and learning processes.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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