Calls of the little auk (Alle alle) chicks reflect their behavioural contexts


Animal vocalisations can often inform conspecifics about the behavioural context of production and the underlying affective states, hence revealing whether a situation should be approached or avoided. While this is particularly important for socially complex species, little is known about affective expression in wild colonial animals, and even less to about their young. We studied vocalisations of the little auk (Alle alle) chicks in the Hornsund breeding colony, Svalbard. Little auks are highly colonial seabirds, and adults convey complex behavioural contexts through their calls. We recorded chick calls during two contexts of opposite affective valence: handing by a human, and while they interact with their parents inside the nest. Using permuted discriminant function analysis and a series of linear mixed models, we examined the effect of the production context/associated affective valence on the acoustic parameters of those calls. Calls were reliably classified to their context, with over 97% accuracy. Calls uttered during handling had higher mean entropy, fundamental frequency, as well as lower spectral centre of gravity and a less steep spectral slope compared to calls produced during interactions with a parent inside the nest. The individuality of handling calls, assessed by information content, was lower than the individuality of calls uttered in the nest. These findings suggest that seabird chicks can effectively communicate behavioural/affective contexts through calls, conveying socially important messages early in development. Our results are mostly in line with emotional expression patterns observed across taxa, supporting their evolutionary continuity.


Osiecka, A. N., Briefer, E. F., Kidawa, D., Żurawska, F., Wojczulanis-Jakubas, K. 2024. Calls of the little auk (Alle alle) chicks reflect their behavioural contexts. PLoS ONE 19(2): e0299033.

GBfhn7j7 1xth4vd

Leave a Reply