Hushed hoarders and prying pilferers

14 Nov 2016 00:54 1
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Corvids are prolific cachers (or hoarders), burying food such as acorns in several thousand locations over the course of a year. When food becomes scarce during winter and spring, they remember where they buried their caches and retrieve the food items. However, pilfering of caches is commonplace. As a result, they are often trying to minimize other birds stealing their food and maximize the food that they steal.

In the first experiment, shown in this video, the researchers gave the jay options to hide food in substrates which varied in the amount of noise they made (a tray containing noisy gravel and a tray containing quiet sand). The bird's preferences for using these different substrates were tested when they were alone, when they had another bird that could see and hear them and when there was another bird that could hear but could not see them.

The researchers found that if a Eurasian jay is caching and hears but does not see another bird nearby it will hide its cache in the less noisy substrate (for this study, sand rather than gravel). This is presumably done to avoid drawing unwanted attention from potential thieves that might then try to view the location of the cache.

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