Birds adjust acoustic directionality to beam their antipredator calls to predators and conspecifics.
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Animals in many vertebrate species vocalize in response to predators, but it is often unclear whether these antipredator calls function to communicate with predators, conspecifics or both. We evaluated the function of antipredator calls in 10 species of passerines by measuring the acoustic directionality of these calls in response to experimental presentations of a model predator. Acoustic directionality quantifies the radiation pattern of vocalizations and may provide evidence about the receiver of these calls. We predicted that antipredator calls would have a lower directionality if they function to communicate with surrounding conspecifics, and a higher directionality and aimed at the receiver if they function to communicate with the predator. Our results support both of these functions. Overall, the birds produce antipredator calls that have a relatively low directionality, suggesting that the calls radiate in many directions to alert conspecifics. However, birds in some species increase the directionality of their calls when facing the predator. They can even direct their calls towards the predator when facing lateral to it--effectively vocalizing sideways towards the predator. These results suggest that antipredator calls in some species are used to communicate both to conspecifics and to predators, and that birds adjust the directionality of their calls with remarkable sophistication according to the context in which they are used.