Long-term memory of individual neighbours in a migratory songbird

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Abstract

CAPABILITIES for long-term memory and recall of information have evolved in non-human animals primarily for special requirements such as for learning species-typical vocalizations and caching food1–6. Long-term memory of individual social partners has, however, not been demonstrated previously for non-human animals. The ability to recognize individuals has important consequences for the evolution of intricate social interactions7–11 and provides a basis for more sophisticated forms of cognition in animal societies12,13. Recognition of social partners has been documented for territorial songbirds, which discriminate between songs of different neighbours14–16 as well as between the songs of strangers and neighbours17. Here I show that male hooded warblers ( Wilsonia citrina, Parulinae) not only recognize their neighbours individually by song during the breeding season, but also retain the memory of neighbours' songs after an 8-month period during which they cease singing and migrate to Central America before they return to former breeding territories.

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Godard, R. Long-term memory of individual neighbours in a migratory songbird. Nature 350, 228–229 (1991) doi:10.1038/350228a0

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