Western sandpiper (Calidris mauri) chicks are precocial and leave the nest shortly after hatch to forage independently. Chicks require thermoregulatory assistance from parents (brooding) for 5-7 days posthatch, and parents facilitate chick survival for 2-3 weeks posthatch by leading and defending chicks. Parental vocal signals are likely involved in protecting chicks from predators, preventing them from wandering away and becoming lost and leading them to good foraging locations. Using observational and experimental methods in the field, we describe and demonstrate the form and function of parent-chick communication in the western sandpiper. We document 4 distinct calls produced by parents that are apparently directed toward their chicks (brood, gather, alarm, and freeze calls). Through experimental playback of parental and non-parental vocalizations to chicks in a small arena, we demonstrated the following: 1) chicks respond to the alarm call by vocalizing relatively less often and moving away from the signal source, 2) chicks respond to the gather call by vocalizing relatively more often and moving toward the signal source, and 3) chicks respond to the freeze call by vocalizing relatively less often and crouching motionless on the substrate for extended periods of time. Chicks exhibited consistent directional movement and space use to parental and non-parental signals. Although fewer vocalizations were given in response to non-parental signals, which may indicate a weaker response to unfamiliar individuals, the relative number of chick calls given to each type of call signal was consistent between parental and non-parental signals. We also discovered 2 distinct chick vocalizations (chick-contact and chick-alarm calls) during arena playback experiments. Results indicate that sandpiper parents are able to elicit antipredatory chick behaviors and direct chick movement and vocalizations through vocal signals. Future study of parent-offspring communication should determine whether shorebird chicks exhibit parental recognition though vocalizations and the role of chick vocalizations in parental behavior. ?? The Author 2008. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the International Society for Behavioral Ecology. All rights reserved.
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Parent-offspring communication in the western sandpiper