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Thesis Abstract – McNew (2009)


The Role of Visual and Social Cues on Foraging Decisions of the Western Scrub-Jay Aphelocoma californica

Author and college:

Sabrina McNew, Pomona College


Spring, 2009


Bachelor of Arts in Biology


Rachel Levin, Pomona College


Choosing what to eat is one of the most important decisions an animal makes while foraging. Two tools western scrub-jays, Aphelocoma calfornica, may use to evaluate a novel food item are visual characteristics of the food and social cues from conspecifics. Previous research with a closely related species, the Florida scrub-jay A. coerulescens, found color biases in foraging and the ability to learn a foraging task by observing family members. I hypothesized that foraging behavior between these two species would be different due to differences in their habitats and social behavior. I tested 1) whether western scrub-jays have initial color biases when presented with a novel food item 2) whether scrub-jays could learn to reject a food item purely on the basis of visual characteristics, and 3) whether the presence of conspecifics affected the learning ability of scrub-jays. I found that western scrub-jays do not have a bias against the color red, but that they are able to learn an aversion to that color through experience with unpalatable red seeds. From this experiment it is unclear if foraging scrub-jays are able to learn from watching other conspecifics; however, I outline a method that could be used in the future to quantitatively evaluate observational learning of food aversions in the western scrub-jay. Continuing to study Florida and western scrub-jays in the field provides more insight into the origins of foraging behavior and the social and environmental factors that shape it.

For more information:

Contact Rachel Levin – rachel.levin@pomona.edu

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