Birds plan for the future
February 21, 2007
Writing in the current edition of the journal Nature, scientists at Cambridge University found that western scrub-jays plan for future food shortages by storing food. Unlike squirrels and other animals that store foods during lean times as a matter of habit, the researchers show that the birds actually learn from their previous experiences of food scarcity, saving food for future consumption when they anticipate future periods of famine.
University of Cambridge.
Clayton, along with co-author and colleague Tom Dickinson, believe this is the first known example of future planning in animals.
Their conclusions are based on a series experiments, two of which are described in a new release from Cambridge.
On alternate mornings eight jays were given breakfast in one compartment or refused breakfast in another, before being allowed free access to food the rest of the day. On the sixth day of the experiment they were suddenly given whole pine nuts suitable for caching in the evening. The researchers observed that the jays consistently cached most pine nuts in the tray in the "no breakfast" compartment, anticipating that they would not be fed in the following morning in that compartment.
Another experiment showed that the birds were able to plan ahead to provide themselves with a more varied diet. The jays were consistently given a breakfast of peanuts in one compartment and dog kibble in the other. When the birds in the evening were offered both foods, they preferred to cache peanuts in the kibble compartment and vice versa -- to make sure they had an interesting breakfast the following morning.