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The Effects of Social Context on the Food-Caching Behavior of Florida Scrub-Jays (Aphelocoma coerulescens)


Matthew B. Toomey, SoLS Graduate Program PO Box 874601, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287-4601.


Florida scrub-jays are cooperative breeders that live in family groups consisting of a breeding pair, often with several non-breeding helpers. Florida scrub-jays cache food by scatter-hoarding items for later consumption. Within family groups, members have the opportunity to observe and pilfer the caches of other members. We observed jays harvesting experimentally provisioned peanuts alone and in the presence of other family members, to determine whether jays modify their food-handling behavior relative to social context. Non-breeding helpers were less likely to cache in the presence of the dominant male breeder than when alone and all jays tended to cache out of sight when observed by another jay. These changes in caching behavior are consistent with cache protection strategies employed by other species. However, the adaptive value of such cache protection within a sedentary cooperatively breeding family group on a year-round territory is unclear.