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On the Functional Significance of Long Call Components in the Little Gull

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image of Netherlands Journal of Zoology
For more content, see Archives Néerlandaises de Zoologie (Vol 1-17) and Animal Biology (Vol 53 and onwards).

At the beginning of encounters between conspecifics, Little Gulls Larus m. minutus L. perform a highly conspicuous display called Oblique-Vertical-Long Call. The same display is performed, irrespective of whether the individuals participating are potential mates, opponents, males or parents with young. However, there is considerable variation in the reactions elicited under different circumstances. This raises the question what kind of information is encoded by this display. Emphasis is laid on an analysis of its vocal part, the Long Call. The Long Call consists of up to three parts, termed Kay, Ke-kéh and Ke-koo, which follow each other in a fixed order. Ke-kéh and Ke-koo are usually accompanied by the Oblique and Vertical Posture, respectively. Playback experiments have demonstrated that Kay makes Little Gulls individually recognizable to one another. Ke-kéh announces approach, usually at great distance. Variation in Ke-kéh and in the Oblique Posture appears to be related with encounters with different types of individuals, such as opponents, mates and chicks. It is suggested that these variants may give specific information with respect to whether or not approach is likely to be followed by attack. Ke-koo only occurs when two birds are close. Ke-koo is mainly given in encounters with an adult of the other sex and is accompanied by the Vertical Posture which contains elements presumed to have appeasing functions. Ke-koo is believed to convey a bird's intention to approach peacefully to a short distance in situations which otherwise easily result in aggressive interactions. Ke-koo predominates in the earlier stages of the relationship between partners. It gradually disappears as a Long Call constituent when the pair bond increases in strength and the partners know each other individually. The Long Call serves a basic function in interactions between individuals and is essential for the establishment of personal recognition. The compound character of the message in the Long Call explains why so many different, sometimes apparently contradictory functions have been attributed to it by earlier workers.

Affiliations: 1: (Department of Zoology, University of Groningen, Postbox 14, 9750 AA Haren, The Netherlands


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