Social cognition by food-caching corvids. The western scrub-jay as a natural psychologist

Nicola S Clayton, Joanna M Dally, Nathan J Emery


Food-caching corvids hide food, but such caches are susceptible to pilfering by other individuals. Consequently, the birds use several counter strategies to protect their caches from theft, e.g. hiding most of them out of sight. When observed by potential pilferers at the time of caching, experienced jays that have been thieves themselves, take further protective action. Once the potential pilferers have left, they move caches those birds have seen, re-hiding them in new places. Naive birds that had no thieving experience do not do so. By focusing on the counter strategies of the cacher when previously observed by a potential pilferer, these results raise the intriguing possibility that re-caching is based on a form of mental attribution, namely the simulation of another bird's viewpoint. Furthermore, the jays also keep track of the observer which was watching when they cached and take protective action accordingly, thus suggesting that they may also be aware of others' knowledge states.



  • One contribution of 19 to a Dicussion Meeting Issue ‘Social intelligence: from brain to culture’.

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