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Locatability of begging calls in nestling altricial birds

AuthorsRedondo, T. ; Arias de Reyna, Luis
Issue DateJun-1988
CitationAnimal Behaviour, 36:653-661(1988)
AbstractNestling begging calls of altricial species of birds have design features (wide frequency range, abrupt onsets and modulation in amplitude and frequency) that make them easily located by birds and mammals, and so may attract predators to the nest. To be maintained by natural selection, such calls must also be beneficial. It is argued here that sibling competition for food during the early stages of nestling development favours locatability of begging calls, presumably because noisy nestlings attract the attention of parents. In the magpie, Pica pica, begging calls of nestlings have a wider frequency spectrum before the nestlings' eyes have opened, a trait that increases their locatability. A strategy of having locatable calls should spread if favoured by mechanisms that overcome the increased predation risk associated with such calls. Two mechanisms are proposed: increased attenuation of the signals by emphasizing higher frequencies (a feature commonly found in begging calls) and dispersion of energy over a wide time-frequency range, a trait that, because of sound degradation, probably masks the estimate of source distance by predators. This hypothesis agrees with predictions of models of intra-brood conflict: when predation costs are higher, level of solicitation (locatability) should decrease. Hole-nesting species, which have a lower risk of predation, have calls with wider frequency ranges and lower (less attenuable) medium frequencies than those of open-nesting species of a similar weight.
Publisher version (URL)http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0003-3472(88)80147-7
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