Distraction displays, also known as deflection display, diversionary display or paratrepsis, are anti-predator behaviours used to attract the attention of an enemy away from an object, typically the nest or young, that is being protected. They are particularly well known in birds but noted also in fish. Distraction displays are, however, not very well defined and the definition has been the subject of much debate. They are sometimes classed more generically under "nest protection behaviours" along with aggressive displays such as mobbing.
It has been suggested that distraction displays exist mainly in birds, since they have the ability to escape at the last moment out of reach of ground predators. Displays are used mainly for ground predators, and are rarely used against avian predators.
Several variations are known in these distraction displays. Nesting male three-spined sticklebacks, when approached by groups of conspecifics, will move away from the nest and simulate feeding on the substrate. Adults will feed on the eggs of nesting conspecifics.
False brooding is an approach used by plovers. The bird moves away from the nest site and crouches on the ground so as to appear to be sitting at a nest and allows the predator to approach close before escaping.
Injury feigning is one of the more common forms of distraction. The broken-wing display is particularly well known in nesting waders and plovers and doves such as the mourning dove. Birds that are at the nest walk away from the nest with one wing hung low and dragging on the ground so as to appear as an easy target for a predator. Several interpretations have been made for the evolution of the behaviour and the cognitive abilities involved.
Another display is the rodent run, which is seen in plovers as well as some passerine birds. Here the nesting bird drops to the ground or moves away, creeping along with the head held low and making turns as if dodging imaginary obstacles.
If a signal is not honest, predators can quickly learn to ignore distraction displays. Distraction displays have their cost and displaying adult birds are sometimes captured by the predator being distracted or by other opportunist predators.
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