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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2023

Birds differentially prioritize visual and olfactory foraging cues depending on habitat of origin and sex

Rubene, Diana; Low, Matthew; Brodin, Anders


Animals interpret their environment by combining information from multiple senses. The relative usefulness of different senses may vary between species, habitats and sexes; yet, how multimodal stimuli are integrated and prioritized is unknown for most taxa. We experimentally assessed foraging preferences of great tits (Parus major) to test whether urban and forest individuals prioritize visual and olfactory cues differently during foraging. We trained 13 wild-caught birds to associate multimodal (colour + odour) cues with a food reward and assessed their foraging preferences in a cue-separation test. In this, the birds could choose between the multimodal training cue and its olfactory or visual components. Our results suggest that the birds did not perceive multimodal cues in an integrated way, as their response was not stronger than for unimodal cue components. Urban birds preferred olfactory cues, while forest birds preferred visual cues. Nevertheless, female birds preferred the multimodal cue, while males foraged more randomly with respect to which cue was present. These findings contribute to our understanding of the relative roles of vision and olfaction in bird foraging behaviour. Future work should focus on how habitat- and sex-specific sensory prioritization modifies bird foraging behaviour and foraging success in the context of urban adaptations across populations.


great tit; urbanization; learning; bird olfaction; multisensory integration

Published in

Royal Society Open Science
2023, Volume: 10, number: 2, article number: 221336