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    Researcher reveals great tits have different alarm calls for different predators

    NewsMonday 25 November 2013
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    A scientist in Japan has carried out research which has supposedly revealed that great tits use different alarm calls for different predators. 
     
    The researcher carried out a number of tests and analysed the birds’ calls and discovered that they made “jar” sounds for snakes and “chicka” sounds for crows and martens. 
     
    These incredible results are the first signs that birds can communicate vocally about the type of predator threatening them. 
     
    The findings are published in the journal Animal Behaviour.
     
    Dr Toshitaka Suzuki, from the Graduate University for Advanced Studies in Kanagawa, found, from his previous observations, that great tits appeared to be able to discriminate between different predators. 
     
    In order to test his theory, Dr Suzuki placed models of three different animals that prey on nestlings - snakes, crows and martens - near the birds’ nest boxes. 
     
    He then simply recorded and analysed the responses of the birds themselves. 
     
    Dr Suzuki told the BBC: “Parents usually make alarm calls when they approach and mob the nest predators.
     
    "They produced specific 'jar' alarm calls for the snakes and the same 'chicka' alarm call in response to both the crows and martens," he said.
     
    He also stated that when he analysed them closer, the sounds showed that the birds had used different “note combinations” in their crow alarm calls, from those they had used for the martens. 
     
    When speaking about their calls, Dr Suzuki said that he believes the birds might have evolved what he called a "combinatorial communication system" - combining different notes to produce calls with different meanings.
     
    Snakes pose a greater threat to tit nestlings as they are able to slither into the nest boxes. And due to this, Dr Suzuki says that it makes sense that the birds would have a specific snake alarm call for these predators. 
     
    He added: "Human language is based on a combinatorial rule, which allows us to generate an infinite number of expressions (ie words) from a finite set of elements (ie alphabets). Similarly, the tits can make a word 'crow' or 'marten' by combining different types of notes into an alarm call."
     
    Picture: Brian Fuller
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