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Wing and tail flicking is observed in many bird species, but the interpretation of this behavior ranges from signaling aggression to reflecting fear. In American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos), wing-tail flicking (WTF) may reflect unease and may even be a signal to other birds. We report the first quantitative analysis of wing-tail flicking by crows with respect to its use by context and identity of the crow. We analyzed pre-recorded videos from other experiments exposing crows to novel objects, both on territory and at a group foraging site. WTF was recorded quantitatively (scale of intensity 1-3 and rates/min), along with context and the individual’s identity. WTF was frequent both on territory and at the communal foraging site in social and non-social behavioral contexts. It occurred in higher intensity when crows first landed, retrieved food, or in social conflicts. At the communal foraging site, its frequency and intensity decreased, possibly due to increased safety in numbers or reduced incentive for signaling amongst unrelated individuals. There are few ways to assess the motivational state of animals in the wild. Quantifying subtle signals and their occurrence in known contexts is an important step in understanding the internal state behind the behavior of wild animals.



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Inferring the “Meaning” of Wing-Tail Flicking Behavior in American Crows