Keeping track of one set of keys is difficult enough, but imagine having to remember the locations of thousands of sets of keys. Do you use landmarks to remember where you put them? Do you have a mental map of their locations?
Scientists at the University of New Hampshire hope to learn more about memory and its evolution by studying the Clark’s nutcracker, a bird with a particularly challenging task: remembering where it buried its supply of food for winter in a 15-mile area. Like many animals preparing for the winter, every fall the Clark’s nutcracker spends several weeks gathering food stores. What makes it unique is that it harvests more than 30,000 pine nuts, buries them in up to 5,000 caches, and then relies almost solely on its memory of where those caches are located to survive through winter.
Brett Gibson (homepage), a scientist studying animal behavior, began studying Clark’s nutcrackers in graduate school and is continuing his research into memory and the behavior of nutcrackers as an assistant professor in UNH’s psychology department.
[Science, Birds, Ornithology, Behaviour]
John Latter / Jorolat