Subscribe to BirdNote

Sign up to receive a weekly email preview of the following week's shows!

Sign Up
Support BirdNote

Help BirdNote tell more stories, reach more people, and inspire action.


You are here

Scrub-Jays Plan Breakfast

Caroline Raby and others at Cambridge University conducted experiments with Western Scrub-Jays, playing off the birds' natural tendency to cache food. In the first experiment, the jays cached food in the room where they expected to go hungry the following morning. In the second, they received two kinds of food and stored it so that both types would be handy for breakfast. As the researchers observed, the results "suggest that the jays can spontaneously plan for tomorrow without reference to their current motivational state, thereby challenging the idea that this is a uniquely human ability." Read more about the experiments. Learn more about the Western Scrub Jay at Cornell's All About Birds.

Full Transcript



Scrub-Jays Plan Breakfast

Written by Bob Sundstrom

This is BirdNote!
 Have you made plans yet for tomorrow’s breakfast? Recent research suggests that some birds do just that. Scientists working with Western Scrub-Jays [Western Scrub-Jay calls] conducted experiments with the crafty jays, which played off the birds’ natural tendency to cache food.
 For six days, researchers moved the scrub-jays between two rooms, one where they always got breakfast and one where they never did. Every evening, they received food, but it was powder, not something they could cache.
 After six days, the jays were given whole nuts in the evening, enough that they could store some nuts in either of the rooms. [Western Scrub-Jay calls] The jays quickly began to cache the nuts only in the room where they expected to go hungry the following morning. [Western Scrub-Jay calls]
 A follow-on experiment gave the jays two kinds of food they could cache. In the room where they had always been fed breakfast of one kind of food, they now began to store the other kind of food – so both types would be handy for breakfast. As the researchers observed, the jays appeared to “spontaneously plan for tomorrow,” regardless of their current circumstances, a capacity thought to be “a uniquely human ability.”
 Something to think about when you can’t decide which cereal to eat in the morning. [Western Scrub-Jay calls]
 I’m Frank Corrado.


Ambient audio provided by The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York.  Recorded by G.A. Keller.
Western Scrub-Jay call recorded and provided by Martyn Stewart,
Producer:  John Kessler
Executive Producer:  Chris Peterson
© 2007 Tune In to Revised 5/2008           © 2008 Tune In to


Quotation from: Raby, C.R., et al. “Planning for the future by western scrub-jays.” Nature, Feb. 2007, Vol. 445, p. 919.

Sights & Sounds

Related topics:

Related field notes: