Salient eyes deter conspecific nest intruders in wild jackdaws (Corvus monedula)

Gabrielle L. Davidson, Nicola S. Clayton, Alex Thornton

Abstract

Animals often respond fearfully when encountering eyes or eye-like shapes. Although gaze aversion has been documented in mammals when avoiding group-member conflict, the importance of eye coloration during interactions between conspecifics has yet to be examined in non-primate species. Jackdaws (Corvus monedula) have near-white irides, which are conspicuous against their dark feathers and visible when seen from outside the cavities where they nest. Because jackdaws compete for nest sites, their conspicuous eyes may act as a warning signal to indicate that a nest is occupied and deter intrusions by conspecifics. We tested whether jackdaws’ pale irides serve as a deterrent to prospecting conspecifics by comparing prospectors’ behaviour towards nest-boxes displaying images with bright eyes (BEs) only, a jackdaw face with natural BEs, or a jackdaw face with dark eyes. The jackdaw face with BEs was most effective in deterring birds from making contact with nest-boxes, whereas both BE conditions reduced the amount of time jackdaws spent in proximity to the image. We suggest BEs in jackdaws may function to prevent conspecific competitors from approaching occupied nest sites.

  • Received December 19, 2013.
  • Accepted January 16, 2014.
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