Animal Cognition

, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 441–455 | Cite as

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

  • Lucy G. Cheke
  • Christopher D. Bird
  • Nicola S. ClaytonEmail author
Original Paper


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.


Corvid Cognition Instrumental learning Tool-use Physical cognition Archimedes 



We are extremely grateful to Elsa Loissel, Tony Dickinson, Bill McGrew and James Thom for discussion and to Brian McCabe for all his statistical advice, and a special thanks to Nathan Emery for all his help. We also thank Charmaine Donovan and Ivan Vakrilov for caring for the birds and Ian Miller for apparatus construction. Lucy Cheke was funded by an MRC studentship, and Chris Bird was funded by a BBSRC studentship. The studies were funded by grants from the BBSRC and the University of Cambridge.

Supplementary material

Supplementary material 1 (WMV 2403 kb)

Supplementary material 2 (WMV 10307 kb)

Supplementary material 3 (WMV 3022 kb)

Supplementary material 4 (WMV 6327 kb)


  1. Bird C, Emery NJ (2009a) Insightful problem solving and creative tool modification by captive nontool-using rooks. Proc Natl Acad Sci 106:10370–10375PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bird C, Emery NJ (2009b) Rooks use stones to raise the water level in order to reach a floating worm. Curr Biol 19:1410–1414PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Boesch C, Boesch H (1983) Optimisation of nut-cracking with natural hammers by Wild Chimpanzees. Behaviour 83:256–286CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bugnyar T, Heinrich B (2005) Ravens, Corvus corax, differentiate between knowledgeable and ignorant competitors. Proc R Soc Biol Sci 272:1641–1646CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Chappell J, Kacelnik A (2002) Tool selectivity in a non-primate, the New Caledonian Crow (Corvus moneduloides). Anim Cognit 5:71–78CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chappell J, Kacelnik A (2004) Selection of tool diameter by New Caledonian Crows Corvus moneduloides. Anim Cognit 7:121–127CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Clayton NS, Dickinson A (1998) Episodic-like memory during cache recovery by scrub-jays. Nature 395:272–278PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Correia SP, Alexis DM, Dickinson A, Clayton NS (2007) Western scrub-jays (Aphelocoma californica) anticipate future needs independently of their current motivational state. Curr Biol 17:856–861PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dally JM, Emery NJ, Clayton NS (2004) Cache protection strategies by western scrub-jays (Ap helocoma californica): hiding food in the shade. Proc R Soc Lond B 271:S387–S390CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dally JM, Emery NJ, Clayton NS (2005) Cache protection strategies by western scrub-jays, Aphelocoma californica: implications for social cognition. Anim Behaviour 70:1251–1263CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dally JM, Emery NJ, Clayton NS (2006) Food-caching western scrub-jays keep track of who was watching when. Science 312:1662–1665PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Emery NJ, Clayton NS (2001) Effects of experience and social context on prospective caching strategies in scrub-jays. Nature 414:443–446PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Holzhaider JC, Hunt GR, Campbell VM, Gray RD (2008) Do wild New Caledonian Crows (Corvus moneduloides) attend to the functional properties of their tools? Anim Cognit 11:243–254CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hunt GR, Gray RD (2002) Species-wide manufacture of stick-type tools by New Caledonian Crows. Emu 102:349–353CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Lefebvre L, Nicolakakis N, Boire D (2002) Tools and brains in birds. Behaviour 139:939–973CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Lockie JD (1956) The food and feeding behaviour of the jackdaw, rook and carrion Crow. J Anim Ecol 25:421–428CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Pearce JM, Hall G (1980) A model for pavlovian learning: variations in the effectiveness of conditioned but not of unconditioned stimuli. Psychol Rev 87:532–552PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Prior H, Schwarz A, Güntürkün O (2008) Mirror-induced behaviour in the magpie (Pica Pica): evidence of self-recognition. PloS Biol 6(8):e202PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Raby CR, Alexis DM, Dickinson A, Clayton NS (2007) Planning for the future by western scrub-jays. Nature 445:919–921PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Rescorla RA, Wagner AR (1972) A theory of Pavlovian conditioning: Variations in the effectiveness of reinforcement and nonreinforcement. In: Black AH, Prokasy WF (eds) Classical Conditioning II: Current Research and Theory. Appleton Century Crofts, New York, pp 64–99Google Scholar
  21. Seed AM, Tebbich S, Emery NJ, Clayton NS (2006) Investigating physical cognition in rooks, Corvus frugilegus. Curr Biol 16:697–701PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Seed AM, Clayton NS, Emery NJ (2007) Postconflict third-party affiliation in rooks, Corvus frugilegus. Curr Biol 17:152–158PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Seed AM, Clayton NS, Emery NJ (2008) Cooperative problem solving in rooks (Corvus frugilegus). Proc R Soc B Biol Sci 275:1421–1429CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Shettleworth SJ (2010) Cognition, Evolution and Behaviour, 2nd Edition edn. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  25. Taylor AH, Hunt GR, Holzhaider JC, Gray RD (2007) Spontaneous metatool use by New Caledonian Crows. Curr Biol 17:1504–1507PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Taylor AH, Hunt GR, Medina FS, Gray RD (2009) Do New Caledonian Crows solve physical problems through causal reasoning? Proc R Soc B 276:247–254PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Taylor AH, Medina FS, Holzhaider JC, Lindsay JH, Hunt GR, Gray RD (2010a) An investigation into the cognition behind spontaneous string pulling in New Caledonian Crows. PLoS One 5:e9345PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Taylor AH, Eiliffe D, Hunt G, Gray RD (2010) Complex cognition and behavioural innovation in New Caledonian Crows. In: Proceedings of the Royal Society B, published online before print April 21, 2010Google Scholar
  29. Tebbich S, Seed AM, Emery NJ, Clayton NS (2007) Non-tool-using rooks, Corvus frugilegus, solve the trap-tube problem. Anim Cognit 10:225–231CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Visalberghi E, Addessi E, Truppa V, Spagnoletti N, Ottoni E, Izar P, Fragaszy D (2009) Selection of effective stone tools by wild bearded capuchin Monkeys. Curr Biol 19:213–217PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. von Bayern AMP, Heathcote RJP, Rutz C, Kacelnik A (2009) The role of experience in problem solving and innovative tool use in Crows. Curr Biol 19:1965–1968CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Weir A, Chappell J, Kacelnik A (2002) Shaping of hooks in New Caledonian Crows. Science 297:981PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Wimpenny JH, Weir AAS, Clayton L, Rutz C, Kacelnik A (2009) Cognitive processes associated with sequential tool use in New Caledonian Crows. PLoS One 4:e6471PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lucy G. Cheke
    • 1
  • Christopher D. Bird
    • 2
  • Nicola S. Clayton
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Experimental PsychologyUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK
  2. 2.Sub-Department of Animal BehaviourUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK

Personalised recommendations