Ninja owl; Gerbils over-anticipate an unexpected flying predator

Sonny Shlomo Bleicher, Burt Philip Kotler, Keren Embar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Foragers make decisions based on cues, information collected from their environment, processed into strategic behaviours. This information, processed in multiple regions of the brain, ultimately result in the production of stress hormones and visible changes in behaviour of animals – both reflexively to avoid depredation and strategically to avoid an encounter with the predator. In a common-garden experiment we tested how imperfect information from visual cues of a predator impacts foraging and apprehension of a desert rodent, the Egyptian gerbil (Gerbillus pyramidum). The gerbils were exposed to predation by barn owls (Tyto alba), one camouflaged on dark nights using black dye. Gerbils’ response to the owls was measured using patch-use measured in giving-up densities (GUDs) and time spent in vigilance activity. Owl lethality was extrapolated from mean times spent in attacks and number of attempted strikes. Dyed owls attack-rate was lower and attack duration greater than those of the white owls. During the full moon, when dyed owls were visible, gerbils responded with extreme vigilance and minimal foraging (high GUDs). During the new moon when the owls were most stealthy, the gerbils showed low vigilance coupled with a similar high GUD. The inconsistency between gerbils’ foraging and vigilance behaviours, suggest a likely mismatch between perceived risk and actual measurement of predator lethality gathered by the gerbils’ observations in real time.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104161
JournalBehavioural Processes
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2020


  • Apprehension
  • Behavioural ecology
  • Evolutionary game theory
  • Harvest-rate curves
  • Predator-prey dynamics
  • Risk-estimation


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