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Can redirected aggression explain interspecific attacks by Australian magpies on other birds?

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Attacks by participants of conflicts against a third party are referred to as redirected aggression. Usually the third party is a conspecific — few documented cases of redirected aggression against other species exist. The Australian magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen), however, often attacks other species; the reasons for attacks are largely unknown. Some attacks occur after territorial disputes with conspecifics, suggesting that attacks are the result of redirected aggression. We subjected eight Australian magpie groups to simulated territorial intrusions. In one treatment an Australian magpie and rock dove (Columba livia) were presented in cages next to one another (5 m apart) on the territory for 30 min; the Australian magpie decoy was then covered and aggressive responses toward the rock dove by residents were recorded for a further 30 min (Treatment 1). Two additional treatments were presented in an identical manner on each territory where both decoys were either Australian magpies (Treatment 2) or rock doves (Treatment 3). We predicted that if Australian magpies regularly redirect aggression onto benign species after conspecific territorial intrusions, attack rates on the rock dove decoy in Treatment 1 would be higher than attack rates on the rock dove decoy in Treatment 3. Residents were seldom recorded close (<1 m) and not seen attacking rock dove decoys during tests. In contrast, Australian magpie decoys were often approached and attacked by residents. After a decoy was covered (following the first 30 min phase), residents spent little time in close proximity (on cage, <0.3 m, or 0.3-1 m) to the rock dove decoy in either Treatment 1 or Treatment 3; in contrast, residents were often recorded close to the Australian magpie decoy in Treatment 2. We found no evidence that Australian magpies redirect aggression onto other birds after territorial intrusions. The true proportion of territorial disputes leading to redirected attacks may be small, or only occur under highly specific contexts.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Biological Sciences, University of Waikato, New Zealand; 2: Landcare Research, Hamilton, New Zealand

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