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Differential responses of red knots, Calidris canutus, to perching and flying sparrowhawk, Accipiter nisus, models

By Theunis Piersma, Piet J. van den Hout and Kimberley J. Mathot


According to the threat-sensitive predator avoidance hypothesis, prey should match the intensity of their antipredation response to the degree of threat posed by predators. We used controlled indoor experiments to investigate the ability of red knots to discern between high- and low-threat encounters with a representative predator, the sparrowhawk. The behaviour of knots was compared across three conditions: no predators present (very low predation threat), presentation of a perching sparrowhawk model (low predation threat) and presentation of a gliding sparrowhawk model (high predation threat). In all behavioural parameters measured, red knots showed evidence of discriminating between the different levels of predation risk. Knots responded immediately to the presence of sparrowhawks with escape flights, and the duration of escape flights was longer following the gliding sparrowhawk events than following perching events. Similarly, the proportion of time spent vigilant increased with increasing level of predation threat, while the proportion of time spent feeding decreased. These results show that knots recognize variations in the level of predation threat, and adjust their antipredator responses accordingly. Furthermore, model sparrowhawks were introduced into the experimental arena at similar distances to the knots, which suggests that knots are able to use cues other than distance to predator to gauge the immediate level of threat that a predator poses.

Year: 2009
OAI identifier: oai:ub.rug.nl:dbi/51641b770f69d
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