Bird up!

Date of Submission

Spring 2017

Academic Programs and Concentrations


Project Advisor 1

Bruce Robertson

Abstract/Artist's Statement

While birds are known to rely on visual and auditory cues to detect predators, the use of olfaction in predator detection has been only marginally explored. For cavity nesting birds, chemically detecting predators in their nest could be essential to their survival, as scent often precedes visual or auditory indications of threat. In this study, I examined the ability of native Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) and an introduced European species, House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) to detect squirrel and mustelid predator odor placed in their nest. The inclusion of a native and an exotic bird species was designed to explore whether predator odor recognition requires sufficiently long evolutionary history of interaction with that predator, for selection to favor the use of that cue in avoiding predators. Additionally, exposing birds to high and low risk olfactory and visual predator cues intended to investigate avian ability to differentiate between predators, and thus levels of threat. During the incubation period, I introduced control odor (water) and predator odor (Squirrel and Ferret) to the nest. I monitored for anti-predator behaviors through direct observations and iButton temperature trackers, which allowed for assessment of longer-term changes in incubation behavior. During the nesting period, birds were presented with a squirrel or fisher model and monitored for similar anti-predator behaviors. While there seemed to be no difference between native and exotic species in their ability to detect or differentiate between predators, overall my results provide evidence in support of avian use of smell in predator detection. The comparable severity of anti-predator responses in both species of bird to the scent and visual cues suggests that olfaction is weighted equally with vision in assessing the threat posed by predators.

Open Access Agreement

On-Campus only

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
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