Despite the encountering of a predator always being extremely threatening, there is a significant plasticity among individuals in how they cope with such a situation. In laboratory experiments with wild-caught great tits (Parus major), we tested the effect of exploratory behaviour (performance in novel food, object and environment test, startle test) on the ability of individual birds to assess the threat represented by a predator. We presented a wooden dummy of the European sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus), an extremely dangerous predator, and its visual modifications (chimeras), changing the beak or head to be non-threatening (those of a pigeon – Columba livia f. domestica). We showed that the differences between ‘slow’ and ‘fast explorers’ are not very distinct, but that ‘slow explorers’ generally tended to be more cautious in the presence of an unmodified sparrowhawk dummy, while the ‘fast explorers’ tended to observe the dummy. On the contrary, ‘slow explorers’ tended to treat both chimaeras (and the pigeon dummy as well) as less-threatening than ‘fast explorers’. Since ‘slow explorers’ are usually considered to be more sensitive to environmental cues, it came as no surprise that most of them correctly assessed the unmodified sparrowhawk dummy as threatening, while they probably subjected the chimeras to a detailed inspection and were not confused by the presence of sparrowhawk features and assessed them as non-threatening.
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