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2015 Jul;116:53-61. doi: 10.1016/j.beproc.2015.05.002. Epub 2015 May 6.

Behavioural responses of Eastern grey squirrels, Sciurus carolinensis, to cues of risk while foraging.

Author information

  • 1Centre for Research in Animal Behaviour, Psychology, University of Exeter, UK. Electronic address:
  • 2Centre for Research in Animal Behaviour, Psychology, University of Exeter, UK.


Previous studies have shown that Eastern grey squirrels modify their behaviour while foraging to offset risks of social and predatory costs, but none have simultaneously compared whether such modifications are performed at a cost to foraging. The present study directly compares how grey squirrels respond to cues of these risks while foraging. We simulated social risk and predatory risk using acoustic playbacks of stimuli that grey squirrels might be exposed to at a foraging patch: calls of conspecifics, heterospecifics (competitor and non-competitor) and predators. We found that grey squirrels responded to predator, heterospecific competitor and conspecific playbacks by altering their foraging and vigilance behaviours. Foraging was most disrupted by increased vigilance when we played calls of predators. Squirrels' response to calls of heterospecific competitors did not differ from their response to conspecific calls, and they resumed foraging more quickly after both compared to predator calls: whereas they showed little response to calls of non-competitor heterospecifics and a white noise control. We conclude that squirrels respond differentially to calls made by conspecifics, heterospecific competitors and predators, with the most pronounced response being to calls of predators. We suggest that squirrels may view conspecific and corvid vocalisations as cues of potential conflict while foraging, necessitating increased vigilance.


Competition; Foraging; Playback; Predation; Sciurus carolinensis