A study has found that jackdaws will ditch their old friends, if it helps them get food as a reward.
The research, conducted by the University of Exeter and the University of Bristol, investigated the wild jackdaws’ response to a task in which access to mealworms depended on who visited the feeder.
The study, led by Dr Michael Kings and Dr Josh Arbon, assigned the birds two groups, A or B, and programmed two tag-detecting feeders so that they would only provide mealworms when individuals of the same group visited the feeder.
The jackdaws soon discovered that sticking with members of their own group would get them better food, and therefore ditched their old ‘friends’ from the other group.
However, they always stuck with their offspring, siblings and mating partners, no matter what the outcome.
The investigation, supervised by Professor Alex Thornton, forms part of the Cornish Jackdaw Project and offers new insight into how jackdaws approach individual decision-making and social relationships.
The results suggest that wild jackdaws will favour friendships with ‘compatible’ group members, which offer the best return from foraging. However, change in social structure was limited as they also preserved pre-existing relationships.
Dr Kings, from the University of Exeter, said: “These results have important implications for our understanding of the evolution of intelligence as they show that being able to track and remember information about social partners can bring benefits.”
Dr Arbon, from University of Bristol, added: “Our findings also help us to understand how societies emerge from individual decisions. The balance between strategically playing the field for short-term benefits and investing in valuable long-term partners ultimately shapes the structure of animal societies, including our own.”
The research team also included the University of Konstanz, and was funded by the Leverhulme Trust and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.
The full study can be found in the journal Nature Communications.
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