“Subscribe to our Voices Dispatches email newsletter for a complete summary of the top opinions from the week.”
Join our mailing list for our weekly Voices newsletter at no cost.
According to a study, crows will persist in waiting for their preferred food, even if there is a competing bird present.
According to a study conducted by Anglia Ruskin and Cambridge universities, jays will choose a less desirable food option if there is another bird present, rather than waiting for their preferred food and potentially missing out on it.
According to the authors of the study, both types of organisms can exhibit self-discipline by resisting immediate gratification and waiting for a better option.
Rachael Miller, a senior lecturer in biology at Anglia Ruskin University and co-lead author, stated that jays are typically less social than crows and depend on the strategy of storing food for future survival.
According to her, this could explain why jays seem to alter their strategies and opt for their less preferred, but readily accessible, food choice when in the presence of another bird.
The scientists observed the actions of six New Caledonian crows and five Eurasian jays when offered two food options on a rotating platform – a high-quality choice and a low-quality choice.
Jays preferred mealworm as their high-quality food, and bread as their low-quality option. Crows’ top choice was meat, but they were less fond of apples.
The birds had to retrieve the food from beneath transparent plastic cups.
Individually, each bird underwent testing while observing the addition of both food varieties to the rotating platform.
Simultaneously, another avian creature – either a rival or a non-competing bird – stayed in a neighboring section.
Right before the less desirable food choice was placed on the turning tray, the door separating the sections was opened, giving the second bird entry.
The tested bird had the option to either immediately choose or wait for 15 seconds for the preferred food to become available.
During the experiment, it was observed that the jays consistently opted for the better, but delayed, reward (mealworm) when they were alone. However, when another bird, whether a competitor or not, was present, they tended to choose the immediate food option (bread).
On the other hand, every crow remained steadfast and anticipated the better, delayed reward (meat) instead of the immediate, less desirable choice (apple) in all three experimental scenarios.
According to Dr. Miller, delaying gratification, which means turning down a small, immediate food reward in exchange for a better one later, showcases one’s self-control.
We have utilized the rotating tray task to assess self-control in young children as well.
The Eurasian jay and New Caledonian crow can delay gratification for a better reward. We predicted that both species would opt for the higher-quality reward when alone or with a non-competitor, but would choose the immediate, lower-quality reward if a competitor was present to avoid losing out.
Surprisingly, we discovered that jays exhibited great adaptability in their ability to delay gratification, which was solely affected by the presence of other birds. However, the crows consistently opted for the superior, delayed reward, regardless of the presence of competing birds.
“This research contributes to our knowledge of self-regulation and the elements that affect the ability to delay gratification in animals. These factors may be linked to a species’ level of social tolerance and competition.”
New Caledonian crows are generally more social and accepting of others compared to Eurasian jays. While both species store food for future consumption, jays heavily rely on this strategy for their survival.
This could clarify why the jays who are more protective of their territory changed their method of selecting food when other competitors were around. They opted for the option that was readily available, even if it was not their first choice, in order to avoid missing out completely.
The findings were published in the journal PLOS ONE.