Western scrub-jays ( Aphelocoma californica) use cognitive strategies to protect their caches from thieving conspecifics

Anim Cogn. 2004 Jan;7(1):37-43. doi: 10.1007/s10071-003-0178-7. Epub 2003 Jun 26.


Food caching birds hide food and recover the caches when supplies are less abundant. There is, however, a risk to this strategy because the caches are susceptible to pilfering by others. Corvids use a number of different strategies to reduce possible cache theft. Scrub-jays with previous experience of pilfering other's caches cached worms in two visuospatially distinct caching trays either in private or in the presence of a conspecific. When these storers had cached in private, they subsequently observed both trays out of reach of a conspecific. When these storers had cached in the presence of a conspecific, they subsequently watched the observer pilfering from one of the trays while the other tray was placed in full view, but out of reach. The storers were then allowed to recover the remaining caches 3 h later. Jays cached more worms when they were observed during caching. At the time of recovery, they re-cached more than if they had cached in private, selectively re-caching outside of the trays in sites unbeknown to potential thieves. In addition, after a single pilfering trial, the jays switched their recovery strategy from predominantly checking their caches (i.e. returning to a cache site to see whether the food remained there) to predominantly eating them. Re-caching remained constant across the three trials. These results suggest that scrub-jays use flexible, cognitive caching and recovery strategies to aid in reducing potential future pilfering of caches by conspecifics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Female
  • Food*
  • Male
  • Memory*