June 10, 2009

Siberian jays use complex communications

Swedish scientists have discovered Siberian jay birds use more than a dozen different calls to communicate danger and predator category to other birds.

The researchers said most prey immediately escape upon detecting a predator. However, when encountering resting predators, some prey approach and mob the predators despite any associated risk. And, while mobbing predators, the prey utter mobbing calls that have been suggested to vary depending on risk or predator category.

The new study from Uppsala University shows Siberian jay birds have evolved call systems that are as sophisticated as those of primates. The research also shows Siberian jays adjust their mobbing calls depending on both risk and predator category simultaneously.

The chatter of mobbing jays is rather complex. The birds use over a dozen different calls, some of which are specific for owls and other for hawks, the two main predator categories of jays, Michael Griesser, who led the research, said. My study supports the idea that the need to survive encounters with predators might have played an important role for the evolution of complex animal communication.

The research appears in the Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences.