Planning for a Hungry Day

SCORE ANOTHER FIRST for the animal kingdom

06-01-2007 // NWF Staff

SCORE ANOTHER FIRST for the animal kingdom: Scientists have discovered that western scrub jays make plans for the future, a complex ability once considered uniquely human. While many animals perform actions that provide future benefits—from migrating and nest-building to hoarding food when they are hungry—such behaviors are automatic responses to innate or environmental cues. In a series of laboratory studies, however, University of Cambridge biologist Nicola Clayton and her colleagues found that scrub jays that are provided extra food will save and store it specifically in enclosures where they’d previously received either nothing to eat or meals that lacked a diversity of foods. The results, published in Nature, show that the birds “are concerned both about guarding against food shortages and maximizing the variety of their diets,” says Clayton. “The jays spontaneously plan for tomorrow, without being motivated by current needs.”—Laura Tangley

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