December 3, 2014
University of Oxford
Birds learn new foraging techniques by observing others in their social network, 'copycat' behavior that can sustain foraging 'traditions' that last years, according to a study of how innovations spread and persist in wild great tits -- Parus major.
The study involved experiments with eight local populations of great tits in Wytham Woods, Oxfordshire (UK). In five of the populations two male birds were trained to slide a puzzle box door either to the left or to the right. In three control groups two males were captured but not trained. The birds were then released back into their original populations to act as 'innovators', together with puzzle boxes that revealed a tasty mealworm reward when opened from either side. Electronic tags on the birds recorded how the two box-opening methods spread in each of the local populations through social network links.