Social Learning of a Novel Foraging Skill by White-throated Magpie-jays (Calocitta formosa, Corvidae): a Field Experiment


  • Tom A. Langen

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Biology, University of California, San Diego
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      Langen T. A. 1996: Social learning of a novel foraging skill by white-throated magpie-jays (Calocitta formosa, Corvidae): a field experiment. Ethology 102, 157–166.

Tom A. Langen, Department of Biology, University of California, Los Angeles, 405 Hilgard Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA.


The cooperatively breeding white-throated magpie-jay (Calocitta formosa) uses a variety of foraging tactics to find, harvest, and process food. Members of territorial groups forage together and may gain information about how to acquire food by observing each other. A field experiment was performed to determine whether a novel skill, door opening to gain access to food, was more rapidly acquired by members of groups in which a trained individual performed the skill. A higher proportion of jays in groups with behavioural ‘models’ (trained birds that opened doors in the presence of group members) acquired the door-opening skill than those groups without models. Young birds acquired the behaviour more frequently than older individuals. Aggressive behaviour at feeders may have affected the spread of the behaviour by reducing the likelihood that individuals performed the behaviour in the presence of other group members but may also have encouraged subordinate individuals to attempt door opening rather than ‘scrounge’.