EKU Faculty and Staff Scholarship


Responses of Blue Jays (Cyanocitta cristata) to raptors that differ in predatory threat


Biological Sciences

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Some species of birds use their vocalisations to communicate predator presence and the level of threat they pose, including two species of corvids (Corvidae), American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) and Siberian Jays (Perisoreus infaustus). Our objective was to determine if Blue Jays (Cyanocitta cristata), another corvid, also use specific calls or vary the characteristics of certain calls to convey information about the level of threat posed by aerial predators. During the non-breeding seasons of 2014 and 2015, we recorded and analysed the vocal responses of Blue Jays to study skins of six species of raptors that varied in size and the level of threat they pose to Blue Jays. Experiments were conducted at seven locations in Madison County, Kentucky. The mean number of Blue Jays present during trials was 2.6, and Blue Jays uttered five different vocalisations during trials, with ditonal and monotonal jeers given most frequently. The rate at which Blue Jays uttered ditonal jeers differed among trials, with rates highest during trials with an Eastern Screech-Owl (Megascops asio) and a Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus). However, the characteristics of ditonal and monotonal jeers (duration, low frequency, high frequency, and peak frequency) did not differ among trials. These results suggest that Blue Jays may either perceive Eastern Screech-Owls and Sharp-shinned Hawks as the greatest threats or, alternatively, as potential, but less threatening predators, and, therefore, they were willing to take greater risks when mobbing them. In contrast, Blue Jays mobbed the other raptors, i.e. American Kestrels (Falco sparverius), Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis), and Great Horned Owls (Bubo virginianus), with much less intensity, likely because they posed less of a threat or, in the case of Cooper's Hawks (Accipiter cooperii) that are known predators of Blue Jays, perhaps because mobbing with greater intensity, e.g. approaching more closely, posed too great a risk. Blue Jays in our study used the same calls with the same characteristics when responding to potential predators, only calling rates differed. However, such variation in calling rates when mobbing would likely provide useful information about the presence of, and possibly the threat posed by, potential predators for conspecifics and, perhaps, heterospecifics.

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Avian Biology Research

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