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These Japanese Songbirds Have Their Own Warning Call for ‘Snake!’

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Japanese songbirds can make unique calls to warn of a snake nearby, causing their comrades to conjure a visual image of the predator and react accordingly, researchers said Monday.

Until now, the ability to visualize something after hearing the word or sound was thought to be a human-only trait, said the report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed U.S. journal.

“The Japanese tit (Parus minor) produces particular alarm calls when, and only when, encountering a predatory snake,” said study author Toshitaka Suzuki at the Center for Ecological Research, Kyoto University.

Researchers played recordings of songbird calls warning of a snake, while a short tree branch was moved “in a serpentine fashion — up a tree trunk or along the ground,” said the report.

When birds saw this movement and heard the call, they reacted as if seeing a snake.

“With a snake’s image in mind, tits can efficiently search out a snake regardless of its spatial position,” said Suzuki.

But if they heard a “snake” call and the object did not move in a snake-like way, the birds were unfazed.

Similarly, if they heard calls that were not an alarm call for a snake but saw the serpentine motions of an object, they were unmoved.

This, researchers say, shows that hearing the “snake” calls makes birds visualize a snake — immediately thinking they see that specific thing … (read more)

via The Japan Times

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