Western scrub-jays do not appear to attend to functionality in Aesop's Fable experiments

PeerJ. 2016 Feb 23:4:e1707. doi: 10.7717/peerj.1707. eCollection 2016.

Abstract

Western scrub-jays are known for their highly discriminatory and flexible behaviors in a caching (food storing) context. However, it is unknown whether their cognitive abilities are restricted to a caching context. To explore this question, we tested scrub-jays in a non-caching context using the Aesop's Fable paradigm, where a partially filled tube of water contains a floating food reward and objects must be inserted to displace the water and bring the food within reach. We tested four birds, but only two learned to drop stones proficiently. Of these, one bird participated in 4/5 experiments and one in 2/5 experiments. Both birds passed one experiment, but without attending to the functional differences of the objects, and failed the other experiments. Scrub-jays were not motivated to participate in these experiments, suggesting that either this paradigm was ecologically irrelevant or perhaps their flexibility is restricted to a caching context.

Keywords: Aesop’s Fable; Comparative cognition; Flexible behavior; Non-caching paradigm; Western scrub-jay.