, Volume 17, Issue 5, pp 1149-1156
Date: 27 Apr 2014

Wild robins (Petroica longipes) respond to human gaze

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Gaze following and awareness of attentional cues are hallmarks of human and non-human social intelligence. Here, we show that the North Island robin (Petroica longipes), a food-hoarding songbird endemic to New Zealand, responds to human eyes. Robins were presented with six different conditions, in which two human experimenters altered the orientation or visibility of their body, head or eyes in relation to mealworm prey. One experimenter had visual access to the prey, and the second experimenter did not. Robins were then given the opportunity to ‘steal’ one of two mealworms presented by each experimenter. Robins responded by preferentially choosing the mealworm in front of the experimenter who could not see, in all conditions but one. Robins failed to discriminate between experimenters who were facing the mealworm and those who had their head turned 90° to the side. This may suggest that robins do not make decisions using the same eye visibility cues that primates and corvids evince, whether for ecological, experiential or evolutionary reasons.