Scrub Jays make plans for the future!

Professor Nicky Clayton of the Behavioural & Clinical Neuroscience Institute (University of Cambridge) studies development and evolution of the crow family (which includes Scrub-Jays) and Humans. Published in Nature International Weekly Journal of Science, February 2007, her research explained that Scrub-Jays are able to both anticipate and plan for the future. Wild Scrub-Jays store acorns to sustain them over the winter. Professor Clayton and her team tested the birds' planning abilities in the lab.

The birds were kept in cages with 3 sections. In the evenings they were kept in the middle section and fed powdered pine nuts that they couldn't store, and then they awoke in either side section. One side they were fed breakfast and in the other side they were given no breakfast. Here they were left hungry.

This was repeated for a short time and then a change was made in that the birds were given whole pine nuts and sand trays across all 3 areas of the cage in which to bury the nuts if they wished. These clever birds buried 3 times as many pine nuts in the 'no breakfast' part of the cage. Now if the awoke in the no breakfast room they didn't go hungry!

Before this research no other animals outside of humans had been shown as able to plan actions based on how they will feel in the future.

These birds also seem to able to imagine others' mental states. In 2001 Clayton's team also showed that the Scrub-Jays that had previously stolen food from others were more careful about hiding their own food. Indeed they will move the cached food if another bird has seen them hiding it.

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