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"You hide it -- I'll find it!" -- Great tit has a bird's eye view when looking for dinner
Date:2/12/2014

Birds that hoard food for a rainy day better be sure that there are no great tits around to spy on where they hide their reserve of seeds and nuts. So says Anders Brodin and Utku Urhan of the University of Lund in Sweden, who found that great tits can remember the position of such hideaways up to 24 hours after seeing it cached. Interestingly, even though great tits share this mental ability with well-known hoarders such as crows and jays, they do not store up food themselves. The findings appear in Springer's journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.

Observations were conducted in a laboratory especially designed for bird experiments. Caged great tits (Parus major) were first allowed to observe where marsh tits (Poecile palustris) stored away sunflower seeds. After a retention interval of either one or 24 hours, the birds were then allowed to go in search of these caches. The great tits did this most accurately after one hour, while they were just slightly less accurate in memorizing the hideaways after 24 hours.

In nature it is very useful to be able to observe others' cache and to memorize its location so that it can be recovered at a later stage. This elaborate strategy requires memory storage over an extended time. This skill has previously only been demonstrated in some species of corvids, such as the Mexican jay and Clark's nutcracker. The current Swedish study is the first to show that members of the Paridae family, which include tits, chickadees and titmice, have the same observational spatial learning and memorizing ability.

Brodin and Urhan write that they are not surprised that great tits have the cognitive capacity to do observational learning, given their innovative feeding behavior in general. Previous research has shown that they could observe and learn complex foraging behavior not only from other birds of the same species but also from blue and marsh tits.

What Brodin and Urhan did
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Contact: Joan Robinson
joan.robinson@springer.com
49-622-148-78130
Springer
Source:Eurekalert

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