Crested Pigeon Gives Warning Whistle With Wings

By Allison Bond | September 4, 2009 7:30 am

crested pigeonPigeons alert their flockmates to impending danger not through vocalization, but by making a whistling sound with their wings as they take off in response to a threat, according to a study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Researchers say other birds may also have co-opted the basic mechanical sounds of flight for communication purposes.

Biologists were curious about how all the pigeons in a huge flock knew to launch themselves into the air at the same moment. Because the birds don’t use vocal calls to alert their peers, scientists hypothesized they convey the message using their wings. Researchers first recorded the sounds made by crested pigeons flying happily around a feeder, then sent in a decoy of a hawk, and recorded their flight from the faux predator. When the researchers later played the sound back for a flock of birds, they didn’t so much as twitch at the normal recording. But the rapid clap-clap-clap of the alarmed bird sent them fleeing. Similarly, when the volume or speed of the recording was manipulated, birds only reacted to emergency wing whistles [Discovery News]. Although it’s not yet known exactly how the birds make these sounds, the study’s results could do more than increase our understanding of bird communication. They could also help repel the pesky birds from places where they are annoying or even harmful, like public parks and airports.

Related Content:
80beats: For Australian Bowerbirds, Smart Is Sexy
80beats: Aesop Was Right! Birds Use Rocks to Raise Water Level
80beats: Not So Bird-Brained After All: Rooks Make and Use Tools
80beats: Mockingbird to Annoying Human: “Hey, I Know You”

Image: flickr / Lip Kee

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Mind & Brain
  • Christina Viering

    Sight doesn’t have anything to do with the response?

  • zachary

    I’m sure the site of the predator is the trigger to fly in that specific fashion. So in that way site does, it may be that the other pigeons can visually detect the difference of their fellows flight too.

  • JustinTheOregonian

    the researchers showed it was the sound by playing a recording and then observing that the birds fled, regardless of the visual contact with a predator. thats how they know it is the sound of their flockmates wings, not just the visual clue

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

80beats

80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.
ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »