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Data from: Diurnal variation in the production of vocal information about food supports a model of social adjustment in wild songbirds

Citation

Hillemann, Friederike et al. (2019), Data from: Diurnal variation in the production of vocal information about food supports a model of social adjustment in wild songbirds, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.21b52d0

Abstract

Wintering songbirds have been widely shown to make economic foraging decisions to manage the changing balance of risks from predation and starvation over the course of the day. In this study, we ask whether the communication and use of information about food availability differ throughout the day. First, we assessed temporal variation in food-related vocal information produced in foraging flocks of tits (Paridae) using audio recordings at RFID-equipped feeding stations. Vocal activity was highest in the morning and decreased into the afternoon. This pattern was not explained by there being fewer birds present, as we found that group sizes increased over the course of the day. Next, we experimentally tested the underlying causes for this diurnal calling pattern. We set up bird feeders with or without playback of calls from tits, either in the morning or in the afternoon, and compared latency to feeder discovery, accumulation of flock members, and total number of birds visiting the feeder. Irrespective of time of day, playbacks had a strong effect on all three response measures when compared to silent control trials, demonstrating that tits will readily use vocal information to improve food detection throughout the day. Thus, the diurnal pattern of foraging behaviour did not appear to affect use and production of food-related vocalizations. Instead, we suggest that, as the day progresses and foraging group sizes increase, the costs of producing calls at the food source (e.g. competition and attraction of predators) outweigh the benefits of recruiting group members (i.e. adding individuals to large groups only marginally increases safety in numbers), causing the observed decrease in vocal activity into the afternoon. Our findings imply that individuals make economic social adjustments based on conditions of their social environment when deciding to vocally recruit group members.

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