Alarm signals and interspecific eavesdropping



We test ideas experimentally about the information conveyed in alarm calls and used by others of the same and different species. Techniques include prompting alarm calls with model predators and carrying out playback experiments.

Many species give alarm calls, or similar signals, to warn others about predators, and such signals can include detailed information about the type of predator or degree of danger. Furthermore, many species eavesdrop on the information encoded in the alarm calls of other species, but little is know about the specific information used by eavesdroppers, or by what mechanism they recognize the alarm calls of other species.

Key publications include:

  • Magrath, R. D., Haff, T. M., McLachlan, J. R. & Igic, B. 2015. Learning by wild birds to eavesdrop on heterospecific alarm calls. Current Biology 25: 2047-2050.
  • Murray, T. G. & Magrath, R. D. 2015. Does signal deterioration compromise eavesdropping upon other species' alarm calls? Animal Behaviour 108: 33-41.
  • Magrath, R. D., Haff, T. M., Fallow, P. M. & Radford, A. N. 2015. Eavesdropping on heterospecific alarm calls: from mechanisms to consequences. Biological Reviews, 90: 560-586.
  • Fallow, P. M., Pitcher, B. J. & Magrath, R.D. 2013. Alarming features: birds use specific acoustic properties to identify heterospecific alarm calls. Proc. R. Soc. B, 280: 20122539.
  • Haff, T. M. & Magrath, R. D. 2013. Eavesdropping on the neighbours: fledglings learn to respond to heterospecific alarm. Animal Behaviour, 85: 411-418.
  • Haff, T. M. & Magrath, R. D. 2012. Learning to listen? Nestling response to heterospecific alarm calls. Animal Behaviour, 84: 1401-1410
  • Magrath, R. D. & Bennett, T. H. 2012. A micro-geography of fear: learning to eavesdrop on alarm calls of neighbouring heterospecifics. Proc R Soc Lond. B, 279: 902-909.
  • Fallow, P. M., Gardner, J. L. & Magrath, R. D. 2011 Sound familiar? Acoustic similarity provokes responses to unfamiliar heterospecific alarm calls. Behav. Ecol. 22: 401-410.
  • Goodale, E., Beauchamp, G. Magrath, R. D., Nieh, J. C. & Ruxton, G. D. 2010. Interspecific information flow influences animal community structure. TREE, 25: 354-361.
  • Fallow P. M. & Magrath, R. D.. 2010. Eavesdropping on other species: mutual interspecific understanding of urgency information in avian alarm calls. Anim. Behav. 79: 411-417.
  • Hingee, M. & Magrath, R. D. 2009. Flights of fear: a mechanical wing whistle sounds the alarm in a flocking bird. Proc. R Soc. Lond. B, 276: 4173-4179.
  • Magrath, R. D., Pitcher, B. J. & Gardner, J. L. 2009. Recognition of other species' aerial alarm calls: speaking the same language or learning another? Proc. R Soc. Lond. B: 276, 769-774.


Andy Radford (School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol, UK)

Esteban Fernández-Juricic (Department of Biological Sciences, Purdue University, USA)

Chaminda Ratnayake (Reseearch Assistant)

Tonya Haff (Post-doc)

Bori Cser (PhD student)

Jessica McLachlan (PhD student)

Trevor Murray (PhD student)

Ben Pitcher (Post-doc, University of London, UK)

Pam Fallow (Recently completed PhD)

Updated:  29 March 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director RSB/Page Contact:  Webmaster RSB