Tits need experience to identify a new predator

Illustration by: Izzy Hoskins

Original paper: Carlson NV, Healy SD, Templeton CN (2017b). Hoo are you? Tits do not respond to novel predators as threats. Animal Behaviour 128:79–84.

If you want to find out more, here is the paper!

Within nature, quickly identifying and correctly responding to predators minimises the chance of being eaten and conserves time needed for feeding and finding mates. When new species are introduced to an environment, individuals must determine whether the new species is a predator, the risk they pose, and the best response to make. It is thought that some species may be able to recognise “predatory features” of a new predator and respond appropriately.
Carlson and colleagues tested whether adult tits with experience of predatory sparrowhawks could recognise a little owl, a species they have never seen before, as a predator and respond by mobbing. They compared the response of tits to sparrowhawks (found across the UK) and little owls (found only in Southern UK) in two tit populations: little owl experienced tits (England) and naïve tits (Scotland).
English and Southern tit populations responded similarly to sparrowhawks, which are found in both areas, but English (experienced) tits responded to little owls with more intense mobbing than Scottish (naïve) tits did. This suggests that tits need experience with a new predator via individual experience, or observational or social learning, before they can recognise unknown predators as a potential threat


Contact the illustrator and author

Izzy Hoskin


Contact the researcher

Dr Nora Carlson