Letters to Nature

Nature 414, 443-446 (22 November 2001) | doi:10.1038/35106560; Received 23 July 2001; Accepted 20 September 2001

There is a Corrigendum (21 March 2002) associated with this document.

Effects of experience and social context on prospective caching strategies by scrub jays

N. J. Emery1 & N. S. Clayton2

  1. Sub-department of Animal Behaviour, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB3 8AA, UK
  2. Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 3EB, UK
  3. The authors contributed equally to this work

Correspondence to: N. S. Clayton2 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to N.S.C. (e-mail: Email: nsc22@cam.ac.uk).

Social life has costs associated with competition for resources such as food1. Food storing may reduce this competition as the food can be collected quickly and hidden elsewhere2, 3, 4; however, it is a risky strategy because caches can be pilfered by others5, 6, 7, 8, 9. Scrub jays (Aphelocoma coerulescens) remember 'what', 'where' and 'when' they cached10, 11, 12, 13. Like other corvids6, 7, 8, 9, 14, they remember where conspecifics have cached, pilfering them when given the opportunity, but may also adjust their own caching strategies to minimize potential pilfering. To test this, jays were allowed to cache either in private (when the other bird's view was obscured) or while a conspecific was watching, and then recover their caches in private. Here we show that jays with prior experience of pilfering another bird's caches subsequently re-cached food in new cache sites during recovery trials, but only when they had been observed caching. Jays without pilfering experience did not, even though they had observed other jays caching. Our results suggest that jays relate information about their previous experience as a pilferer to the possibility of future stealing by another bird, and modify their caching strategy accordingly.