Evidence against observational spatial memory for cache locations of conspecifics in marsh tits Poecile palustris
Laboratory studies of scatter hoarding birds have become a model system for spatial memory studies. Considering that such birds are known to have a good spatial memory, recovery success in lab studies seems low. In parids (titmice and chickadees) typically ranging between 25 and 60% if five seeds are cached in 50-128 available caching sites. Since these birds store many thousands of food items in nature in one autumn one might expect that they should easily retrieve five seeds in a laboratory where they know the environment with its caching sites in detail. We designed a laboratory set up to be as similar as possible with previous studies and trained wild caught marsh tits Poecile palustris to store and retrieve in this set up. Our results agree closely with earlier studies, of the first ten looks around 40% were correct when the birds had stored five seeds in 100 available sites both 5 and 24h after storing. The cumulative success curve suggests high success during the first 15 looks where after it declines. Humans performed much better, in the first five looks most subjects were 100% correct. We discuss possible reasons for why the birds were not doing better.