Tests of two functions of alarm calls given by yellow warblers during nest defence
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During nest defence, yellow warblers (Dendroica petechia) give "seet" and "chip" calls. Seet calls are given preferentially toward brood parasitic brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater) during the yellow warblers' egg-laying period, whereas chip calls are given toward mammalian and avian nest predators throughout the nesting period. In this study, we investigated two possible functions of seet and chip calls during nest defence by playing alarm calls to nesting yellow warblers. We tested whether nest owners give seet and chip calls during defence to alert their offspring and their mates about nest threats and, in the latter case, whether the alarm calls differ in function depending on nesting stage. In response to playbacks, nestlings remained inactive for a significantly longer period when chip calls were played than when seet calls were played. Female yellow warblers returned to their nesting areas more quickly when seet calls were played than when chip calls were played, but pairs were equally likely to return to the nesting area in response to both call types. These findings suggests that both seet and chip calls alert mates but that only chip calls function to alert nestlings of potential danger.