Response to conspecific and heterospecific alarm calls in mixed-species bird flocks of a Sri Lankan rainforest

Eben Goodale*, Sarath W. Kotagama

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Citations (Scopus)


The flow of information about predators in mixed-species groups is likely to influence the structure and organization of these communities. To map this flow, it is necessary to demonstrate in a playback experiment that animals use the information provided in heterospecific calls. We investigated the response of birds to conspecific and heterospecific calls in a mixed-species flock system of a Sri Lankan rainforest. We played back the aerial alarm calls of the species that produce the most alarms, the Orange-billed Babbler (Turdoides rufescens) and the Greater Racket-tailed Drongo (Dicrurus paradiseus), as well as natural choruses of alarm calls of several species, to 4 species of birds. We found that babblers moved quickly away from the playback speaker after hearing either babbler or drongo alarm calls. Ashy-headed Laughingthrushes (Garrulax cinereifrons) responded similarly to drongo alarm calls. Response by other species was less clear: Malabar Trogons (Harpectes fasciatus) stayed perched for longer during alarms of several species; drongos showed no difference in response to any treatment. We conclude that birds are listening to heterospecifics and suggest that their response is influenced by several factors, including their foraging technique. The fact that the babbler, the gregarious leading species of the flocks, gains information from another species is one of the first indications that such a "nuclear" species can benefit from its participation in mixed-species flocks, and the response of at least 2 species to drongo alarms emphasizes the importance sentinel species such as drongos may play in flock communities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)887-894
Number of pages8
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Alarm calls
  • Alarm response
  • Interspecific communication
  • Mixed-species flocks
  • Playback experiments
  • Sri Lanka


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