Conspicuous calling near cryptic nests: A review of hypotheses and a field study on white-browed scrubwrens

T. M. Haff, A. G. Horn, M. L. Leonard, R. D. Magrath

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    11 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    Predation is an important source of nest mortality in many bird species and calling near the nest can increase this risk, yet adults of many species regularly vocalize near their nests. Some of these calls serve clearly adaptive functions, such as alarm or provisioning calls. However, many species also give conspicuous 'contact' calls near the nest, which is puzzling because the function of these calls is unclear, and they might attract predators. Most studies of parental vocalizations near nests have focused on specific vocalizations and single hypotheses, yet there is a diversity of vocalization types and potential functions. We review the literature on the diversity and possible function of parental vocalizations near the nest, and then investigate the puzzle of conspicuous contact calling near nests by white-browed scrubwrens Sericornis frontalis. In scrubwrens, 'chip-zz' contact calls were almost always used when adults approached nests, and when they approached one another or changed location. Call composition also changed: the proportion of 'chip' elements increased as callers approached the nest or other adults. Neither adult sex nor nestling age affected calling. Thus, chip-zz calls appear to be used as ongoing signals to other group members of the caller's activity and location, particularly relative to the nest. Nestlings appeared to use the calls as cues of adult arrival, and increased calling as adults approached nests. Further, adults called less after a predator was on the territory, suggesting that parents may be able to reduce the risk of chip-zz calls betraying nest location, or possibly use the absence of calling as a signal of danger. This study thus demonstrates that calling near nests could inform both adults and nestlings about the caller's behaviour, and could serve multiple functions. Future studies will need to experimentally test these functions, as well as the other hypotheses reviewed here.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)289-302
    Number of pages14
    JournalJournal of Avian Biology
    Volume46
    Issue number3
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2015

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