Thursday, May 23, 2024

Eurasian Jays - Gorgeous and can remember "episodes"

CNN has an article (HERE) that looks at new information on the intelligence of birds, specifically Eurasian Jays. Jays are part of a family of birds that includes crows and ravens. This group of birds is very smart and has previously been tested on tool use and basic memory.

New tests have shown that Jays not only have good memories but also have "episodic" memories. Here is the difference for us humans: A good memory is remembering that Lichtenstein is one of only two countries that are "double landlocked." Episodic memory is remembering the last time you went to the movies, who you were with, where it was, etc. They have just shown that Jays have an episodic memory capacity like humans and very few other mammals (dogs and pigs) or birds.

I will copy some of the text here, it is hard to summarize.

...the researchers worked with birds that had been trained to find food hidden under cups. Davies set out a row of four identical red plastic cups and allowed the birds to observe him putting a piece of food under one of the cups. The jays then had to recall which cup the food had been hidden under. Easy enough.

For the next step of the experiment, Davies made little changes to the cups’ appearances, such as adding stickers or colorful strings, but once again hid the food under the same cup in the lineup. For a bird looking for a treat, those strings and stickers were seemingly unimportant incidental info — at this point, they only needed to worry about the position of the cup to find the food.

But in the final stage of the experiment, those little details of cup decoration became unexpectedly important. Davies changed the position of the cups so that the birds could no longer rely on the once-crucial information of which cup in the row contained food. (The treats had since been removed from the cups, to rule out the possibility that the birds were just finding the food by scent.) However, after a 10-minute break, the jays were still able to find the cups with the treats.

Davies suggested that the birds’ mental process might have involved asking themselves, “‘Where’s the food? I remember going to the one with the black square on it. I’ll go to that one,’” Davies said. The jays appeared to be going back in their memories to retrieve details about the cup decorations, and they were highly successful in using that information to find the hidden food.


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