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Julia Carter, a PhD student at the University of Bristol, and her colleagues, set up experiments that showed starlings will keep away from their food dish if a human is looking at it. However, if the person is just as close, but their eyes are turned away, the birds resumed feeding earlier and consumed more food overall.
Carter said “This is a great example of how animals can pick up on very subtle signals and use them to their own advantage”. Her results are published online today (30 April) in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
This research describes the first explicit demonstration of a bird responding to a live predator’s eye-gaze direction. Carter added: “By responding to these subtle eye-gaze cues, starlings would gain a competitive advantage over individuals that are not so observant. This work highlights the importance of considering even very subtle signals that might be used in an animal’s decision-making process.”