Razorbill parent - chick vocalizations

We investigated differences in parent—offspring vocal recognition between males and females in a natural population of razorbills Alca torda, a long-lived and highly social species of auk (Family: Alcidae). Razorbills provide biparental care to their chicks while at the nest site, after which the male is the sole caregiver for an additional period at sea. Parent—offspring recognition in razorbills is most challenging once the chick becomes mobile, leaves the nest site and goes to sea with the male parent. It is during this period when selection pressure acting on recognition behaviour is expected to be strongest. As a result, we predicted that parent—offspring recognition would be better developed in the male parent, that is, show a paternal bias. To test this prediction we used vocal playback experiments conducted on breeding razorbills at the Gannet Islands, Labrador, Canada. We found (1) most positive responses to playbacks (vocal and phonotactic) occurred close to fledging, (2) males responded more to calls from their chicks than to calls from strange chicks, (3) females responded indifferently to calls from their own or strange chicks and (4) chicks responded more to calls from their male parent than to calls from other adult males. The results provide clear evidence of mutual vocal recognition between the male parent and the chick but not between the female parent and the chick, supporting the prediction that parent—offspring recognition is male biased in this species. Such a bias could have important social implications for a variety of behavioural and basic life history traits such as cooperation and sex-biased dispersal.

Insley, S.J., R. Paredes, and I.L. Jones. Differences in razorbill Alca torda parent-offspring vocal recognition. Journal of Experimental Biology. 206: 25-31. 2003.