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WhatWhereWhen memory in magpies (Pica pica)


Some animals have been shown to be able to remember which type of food they hoarded or encountered in which location and how long ago (whatwherewhen memory). In this study, we test whether magpies (Pica pica) also show evidence of remembering these different aspects of a past episode. Magpies hid red- and blue-dyed pellets of scrambled eggs in a large tray containing wood shavings. They were allowed to make as many caches as they wanted. The birds were then returned either the same day or the next day to retrieve the pellets. If they returned the same day, one colour of pellets was replaced with wooden beads of similar size and colour, while if they returned the next day this would happen to the other colour. Over just a few trials, the birds learned to only search for the food pellets, and ignore the beads, of the appropriate colour for the given retention interval. A probe trial in which all items were removed showed that the birds persisted in searching for the pellets and not the beads. This shows that magpies can remember which food item they hoarded where, and when, even if the food items only differ from each other in their colour and are dispersed throughout a continuous caching substrate.

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Gesa Feenders commented on earlier drafts of this manuscript. AZ was supported by a BBSRC Strategic Research Studentship (BBS/S/H/2005/12030). Bird housing and all experimental manipulations happened in accordance with the Animal (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 of the United Kingdom.

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Correspondence to Tom V. Smulders.

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Zinkivskay, A., Nazir, F. & Smulders, T.V. WhatWhereWhen memory in magpies (Pica pica). Anim Cogn 12, 119–125 (2009).

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  • Episodic-like memory
  • Food-hoarding birds
  • Corvidae