Animal Cognition

, Volume 21, Issue 6, pp 749–758 | Cite as

Influence of early experience on processing 2D threatening pictures by European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris)

  • Laurine Belin
  • Laureline Formanek
  • Christine Heyraud
  • Martine Hausberger
  • Laurence HenryEmail author
Original Paper


Stimuli such as visual representations of raptors, snakes, or humans are generally assumed to be universally fear-inducing in birds and considered as a product of evolutionary perceptual bias. Both naïve and experienced birds should thus react to such stimuli with fear reactions. However, studies on different species have shown the importance of experience in the development of these fear reactions. We hypothesized that the responses of adult European starlings to fear-inducing visual stimuli may differ according to experience. We compared the reactions of Hand-raised adults with no experience of predators to those of Wild-caught adults, with potentially extensive experience with predators. Three visual stimuli (i.e. human, raptor, snake) were broadcast to 17 birds as 2D pictures (displayed via a LCD screen) with different modalities of presentation: degree of proximity and with or without movement. The results reveal that the birds were particularly sensitive to proximity and movement, with more attention towards moving stimuli and more withdrawal for close stimuli. The human stimulus elicited attention in both the distant and moving modalities but, like the other stimuli, mostly withdrawal when it was close. Developmental experience appeared to influence the emotional level, as the Hand-raised birds reacted strongly to all stimuli and all modalities, contrarily to the WC birds which performed withdrawals almost only for close stimuli and attention to moving stimuli. Stimuli proximity and movement seemed, therefore, relevant features that elicited negative reactions in Wild-caught birds. The Hand-raised birds were equally attentive to both distant and moving stimuli. Thus the young birds showed no real discrimination. Early and later experiences may, therefore, influence birds’ reactions. Starlings may require experience with real threats to develop adaptive responses, i.e. limiting unnecessary loss of energy by fleeing in front of non-dangerous stimuli.


Vision Perception Starlings Predator recognition Human–animal relationship Cognitive development 



This study was funded by University of Rennes, CNRS and Airbus group. We are grateful to Nathalie PAPIN for her motivation for this study. We are also grateful to Emmanuel de MARGERIE and Robert MARIONNEAU for their help during the experiments, and Adrian CRAIG and Craig Symes for English proofreading and editing.

Compliance with ethical standards

Competing interests

The authors report no conflicts of interest.

Data availability

The datasets generated during and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

Ethical approval

All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed.

Supplementary material

Supplementary material 1 (WMV 1223 KB)

Supplementary material 2 (WMV 1629 KB)

Supplementary material 3 (WMV 1629 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Laurine Belin
    • 1
  • Laureline Formanek
    • 1
  • Christine Heyraud
    • 1
  • Martine Hausberger
    • 2
  • Laurence Henry
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Univ Rennes, Normandie Univ, CNRS, EthoS (Éthologie animale et humaine) - UMR 6552, F-35000RennesFrance
  2. 2.CNRS, Univ Rennes, Normandie Univ, EthoS (Éthologie animale et humaine) - UMR 6552, F-35380PaimpontFrance

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