Pilfering ravens, Corvus corax, adjust their behaviour to social context and identity of competitors
Like other corvids, food-storing ravens protect their caches from being pilfered by conspecifics by means of aggression and by re-caching. In the wild and in captivity, potential pilferers rarely approach caches until the storers have left the cache vicinity. When storers are experimentally prevented from leaving, pilferers first search at places other than the cache sites. These behaviours raise the possibility that ravens are capable of withholding intentions and providing false information to avoid provoking the storers' aggression for cache protection. Alternatively, birds may refrain from pilfering to avoid conflicts with dominants. Here we examined whether ravens adjust their pilfer tactics according to social context and type of competitors. We allowed birds that had witnessed a conspecific making caches to pilfer those caches either in private, together with the storer, or together with a conspecific bystander that had not created the caches (non-storer) but had seen them being made. Compared to in-private trials, ravens delayed approaching the caches only in the presence of storers. Furthermore, they quickly engaged in searching away from the caches when together with dominant storers but directly approached the caches when together with dominant non-storers. These findings demonstrate that ravens selectively alter their pilfer behaviour with those individuals that are likely to defend the caches (storers) and support the interpretation that they are deceptively manipulating the others' behaviour.