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Interspecific observational memory in a non-caching Parus species, the great tit Parus major

Abstract

Scatter-hoarding passerine birds have become a model system for research on spatial memory capacity. This research has focussed on two families, the Corvidae (crows, jays, nutcrackers, etc.) and the Paridae (titmice and chickadees). Corvids are considered to have highly developed cognitive skills that sometimes have been compared with the great apes. Even though pilfering, or stealing of caches made by others, is common among scatter-hoarding birds, the ability to memorize positions of caches made by others has only been demonstrated in some species of corvids. In parids, the ability to memorize positions of caches made by others has not been demonstrated. In a laboratory experiment, we allowed caged great tits to observe caching marsh tits and found that they remembered caching locations both 1 and 24 h after observation. This is the first time observational spatial learning of this type explicitly has been demonstrated in a parid. This ability is surprising since the great tit is not itself a food hoarder, meaning that it may not have the special memory adaptations in the brain that specialized food hoarders possess. Also, the memorization process in an observing pilferer may differ from the memorization that hoarders make of own caches. For example, the typical close inspection of the cache that hoarding parids do after caching will usually not be possible from a distance. Also, the visual perspective of the observing scrounger may be different from that of the hoarder, meaning that some understanding of allocentric space may be required.

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Ethical standards

This work was carried out under permits M-212-11 and M-213-11 from the Malmö-Lund regional ethical permit board in compliance with the Swedish and EU animal care legislation. The birds were captured under bird ringing license 582 from the Swedish bird ringing central with a special permit to use play back recordings. The facility for animal experiments with its bird rooms at the Department of Biology at Lund University has been approved by the Swedish Board of Agriculture.

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Correspondence to Anders Brodin.

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Communicated by P. A. Bednekoff

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Brodin, A., Urhan, A.U. Interspecific observational memory in a non-caching Parus species, the great tit Parus major . Behav Ecol Sociobiol 68, 649–656 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-013-1679-2

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Keywords

  • Great tit
  • Marsh tit
  • Scatter hoarding
  • Memory
  • Observational learning