Photo: Ian Cannell & Caroline Raby
Turns out "bird brain" isn't so stupid after all: western scrub jays can plan for the future by storing snacks when they detect that food will be in short supply in the near future.
Nicola Clayton of the University of Cambridge and her colleagues set out to test whether scrub-jay birds could plan for a future need as opposed to a current one. On alternate mornings for six days, eight scrub jays experienced one of two compartments. In one compartment, the birds were always given breakfast, and in the other they were not.
In the evening, after this training period, the scientists allowed the birds to feast freely on pine nuts, which are suitable for hoarding. The birds planned for a breakfast-free morning by hiding much more food in the bare compartment compared with the “breakfast” one. The prudent squirreling away reveals an understanding of future needs, the researchers say.