, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 441-455
Date: 20 Jan 2011

Tool-use and instrumental learning in the Eurasian jay (Garrulus glandarius)

Abstract

Recent research with Rooks has demonstrated impressive tool-using abilities in captivity despite this species’ classification as a non-tool-user in the wild. Here, we explored whether another non-tool-using corvid, the Eurasian Jay, would be capable of similar feats and investigated the relative contributions of causal knowledge and instrumental conditioning to the birds’ performance on the tasks. Five jays were tested on a variety of tasks involving water displacement. Two birds reliably interacted with the apparatuses. In these tasks, both birds showed a preference for inserting stones into a tube containing liquid over a tube containing a solid or a baited ‘empty’ tube and also for inserting sinkable items over non-sinkable items into a tube of water. To investigate the contribution of instrumental conditioning, subjects were then tested on a series of tasks in which different cues were made available. It was found that, in the absence of any apparent causal cues, these birds showed a clear preference for the rewarded tube when the food incrementally approached with every stone insertion, but not when it simply “appeared” after the correct number of stone insertions. However, it was found that subjects did not prefer to insert stones into a tube rewarded by the incremental approach of food if the available causal cues violated the expectations created by existing causal knowledge (i.e. were counter-intuitive). An analysis of the proportion of correct and incorrect stone insertions made in each trial across tasks offering different types of information revealed that subjects were substantially more successful in experiments in which causal cues were available, but that rate of learning was comparable in all experiments. We suggest that these results indicate that Eurasian jays use the incremental approach of the food reward as a conditioned reinforcer allowing them to solve tasks involving raising the water level and that this learning is facilitated by the presence of causal cues.

An erratum to this article can be found at http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10071-011-0384-7