Inter-individual and age differences in exploration, neophobia and problem-solving ability in a Neotropical raptor (Milvago chimango)


Animal innovations have far-reaching ecological and evolutionary consequences. The occurrence and persistence of an innovation require several processes, including exploration, social and asocial learning, and low neophobia. In addition, the identity of the innovator may determine how these new behaviours are socially transmitted. Taking into account inter-individual and age differences, we investigated three correlates of animal innovation: object exploration, neophobia level and novel problem-solving ability in an opportunistic generalist raptor, the Chimango Caracara (Milvago chimango). Eighteen individuals (7 adults and 11 juveniles) were caught during the non-breeding period and housed in individual cages in outdoor aviaries. Each bird was given three tests: exploration, neophobia and problem-solving. Individuals differed in their response to novel situations both within and between age groups. Most of the juveniles were more explorative and had a lower neophobic response to a strange object than adult birds, but both age groups were able to solve a novel problem when given a food reward. In juveniles, neophobia level and problem-solving performance were inversely related; however, we found no relationship between these behaviours in adults. Exploration did not correlate with neophobia or problem-solving ability for either age group. This research is one of the few studies exploring the inter-individual and age differences in behavioural innovation and their correlates in a bird of prey. The explorative tendency, low neophobia and ability to innovate showed by M. chimango may be advantageous for this generalist and opportunistic raptor and might be some of the factors underlying its ecological success.

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We wish to express our sincere gratitude to Laura Mauco, German Garcia and Ramiro Rodriguez for helping in capturing and managing the raptors and to Natalia Fleitas for taking care of the birds in the zoo. We are grateful to Susana Rosso and Jorge Sanchez for their permission to capture birds in their properties. Juan Pablo Issach and four anonymous reviewers made helpful suggestions on the manuscript. We appreciate the improvements in English usage made by C. Riehl through the Association of Field Ornithologists’ program of editorial assistance and by Liliana Bordoni, Nicolas Lois and Christina Stagnaro. This work was conducted with funds provided by the Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata, Conicet and PICT 12507. The authors adhered to guidelines for the use of animals in research and to the legal requirements of our country. We had permission to capture and manipulate Milvago chimango: Nº 96 Exp. 22228-100, Dirección Contralor y Uso de Recursos Naturales y Pesqueros, Ministerio de Asuntos Agrarios de la Provincia de Buenos Aires.

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Correspondence to Laura Marina Biondi.

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Biondi, L.M., Bó, M.S. & Vassallo, A.I. Inter-individual and age differences in exploration, neophobia and problem-solving ability in a Neotropical raptor (Milvago chimango). Anim Cogn 13, 701–710 (2010).

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  • Milvago chimango
  • Neophobia
  • Exploration
  • Problem-solving ability
  • Innovation
  • Age
  • Urbanization