Birds learn from other birds on TV to make better food decisions

A new study shows birds watching videos of other birds eat helps them avoid poisonous food.

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Bonnie Burton
Journalist Bonnie Burton writes about movies, TV shows, comics, science and robots. She is the author of the books Live or Die: Survival Hacks, Wizarding World: Movie Magic Amazing Artifacts, The Star Wars Craft Book, Girls Against Girls, Draw Star Wars, Planets in Peril and more! E-mail Bonnie.
Bonnie Burton
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The new study gave tit birds a choice between good-tasting and bad-tasting almond packets. 

University of Cambridge

Birds can learn which foods to eat and which to avoid by watching other birds do the same on TV, according to a new study out of the University of Cambridge. 

The study, published on Feb. 19 in the Journal of Animal Ecology, showed that blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) and great tits (Parus major) learned what not to eat by watching videos of other tits choosing food via trial and error. This learned behavior can help the birds avoid potential poisoning.

For the study, the researchers used almond flakes glued inside a white paper packet. Various almond flakes were soaked in a bitter-tasting solution. Birds' reactions when choosing good-tasting and bad-tasting almond packets were recorded, then shown to other birds. The bad-tasting packets had a square symbol printed on them.


A bird watches other birds figure out which almond packets taste the best.

University of Cambridge

The TV bird's responses to unpalatable food varied from shaking its head and vigorously wiping its beak. Both blue tits and great tits ate fewer of the bitter packets with squares on them after watching the TV birds' behavior when eating them.

"Blue tits and great tits forage together and have a similar diet, but they may differ in their hesitation to try novel food," University of Cambridge Department of Zoology researcher Liisa Hamalainen said in a statement. "By watching others, they can learn quickly and safely which prey are best to eat. This can reduce the time and energy they invest in trying different prey, and also help them avoid the ill effects of eating toxic prey."

This is the first study to show that blue tits are just as good as great tits at learning by observing other birds' eating habits.  

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