Tail flicking is a common behavior in many bird species, but its function is often unknown. Apart from intraspecific communication, tail flicking could be used during predator–prey communication, e.g., as a signal of prey vigilance or quality. We studied this behavior in the black redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros), a species that frequently shows tail flicking and is prone to attacks by ambushing predators that hide in cover. Hence, cover might be perceived as dangerous by this species. We hypothesized that flicking should increase with decreasing distance to cover. We counted the number of tail flicks of individuals and measured their distance to the nearest cover for an ambushing predator. We found that distance to cover had a significant effect on tail flicking behavior, as flicking increased with decreasing distance, but found no difference in flicking frequency between adults and juveniles or between sexes. Consequently, tail flicking is unlikely to signal submission or to be sexually selected in the black redstart. Since tail flicking also occurred in the absence of predators, we consider tail flicking in black redstarts to display vigilance and to be directed towards ambushing predators.
Journal of Ethology – Springer Journals
Published: May 17, 2017
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