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Nest Defence By Yellow Warblers: Recognition of a Brood Parasite and an Avian Nest Predator

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Yellow warblers (Dendroica petechia) were exposed to taxidermic mounts of a brood parasite (brown-headed cowbird, Molothrus ater), avian nest predator (common grackle, Quiscalus quiscula) and control (fox sparrow, Passerella iliaca) during their laying and nestling stages to determine whether nest owners distinguish between the threats of brood parasitism and predation. Yellow warblers responded more intensely to the cowbird at the laying stage, performing two unique behaviours (seet calling and nest-protection behaviour) in response to this threat. By contrast, yellow warbler responses to the grackle were greater at the nestling stage, consisting largely of alarm calls (chip, metallic chip and warble calls). The sparrow model infrequently elicited aggressive behaviour from nest owners at either stage. These responses support the hypothesis that yellow warblers discriminate between threats of brood parasitism and nest predation. Yellow warblers may perform specific behaviours to cowbirds because defensive behaviours used against predators may be incompatible with cowbird deterrence. Female nest owners responded more frequently than males at the laying stage, and more intensely than males at both nesting stages. The distance that females and males approached the models and several aggressive behaviours were positively correlated. The greater responsiveness of females may be because they dominate their mates and because females are more experienced with intruders near the nest.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Zoology, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, R3T 2N2, Canada


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