Animal Cognition

, Volume 17, Issue 5, pp 1149–1156 | Cite as

Wild robins (Petroica longipes) respond to human gaze

  • Alexis GarlandEmail author
  • Jason Low
  • Nicola Armstrong
  • Kevin C. Burns
Original Paper


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.


New Zealand robin Avian cognition Gaze Human eyes Caching Pilfering 



We would like to acknowledge Stevia Morawski for her assistance in the field. Thanks also to Zealandia sanctuary staff and volunteers, whose work make this research possible.

Supplementary material

Supplementary material 1 (MOV 16601 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alexis Garland
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jason Low
    • 1
  • Nicola Armstrong
    • 2
  • Kevin C. Burns
    • 2
  1. 1.School of PsychologyVictoria University of WellingtonWellingtonNew Zealand
  2. 2.School of Biological SciencesVictoria University of WellingtonWellingtonNew Zealand

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