Silent tidbitting in male fowl, Gallus gallus: A referential visual signal with multiple functions

Carolynn L. Smith, Christopher S. Evans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


With the notable exception of bee dances, there are no established examples of multimodal referential signals. The food calls of male fowl, Gallus gallus, are functionally referential and the acoustic component of a multimodal display. However, the specificity of the receiver's response to the visual component (tidbitting) has never been tested. Here we provide the first detailed analysis of tidbitting, and test the hypothesis that these characteristic movements are functionally referential. We conducted a playback experiment with five high-definition video stimuli: Silent tidbit, Matched-frequency motion in the opposite direction, Silent crows, Inactive male and Empty cage. Females searched for food more during Silent tidbitting than under any other condition, suggesting that this visual display specifically predicts the presence of food and hence has similar functional properties to food calls. Silent tidbitting was also singularly effective at evoking approach and close inspection, which may enhance signal memorability. These social responses suggest that the visual component of the display has the unique function of triggering assessment of signaler identity and quality as a potential mate. The acoustic and visual components are hence redundant as a food signal, but synergistic when additional functions are considered. These findings emphasize the perceptual complexity of multimodal displays and provide the first demonstration of multimodal referential signaling in a vertebrate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)835-842
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2009


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