How flexible is tool use in Eurasian jays (Garrulus glandarius)?

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Boeckle, Markus 
Jelbert, Sarah 
Ostojic, Ljerka 

Eurasian jays (Garrulus glandarius) do not habitually use tools, yet they can be trained to solve object-dropping tasks, i.e., to insert a tool into an apparatus to release a food reward. Previous research suggests that these jays can learn a preference toward functional tools – objects allowing them to obtain a food reward placed inside an apparatus – according to their density (Cheke et al., 2011). However, it is not yet known whether they can also select functional tools (tool selectivity) according to other physical properties such as size and shape, and use different kinds of tools to solve a similar task. Here we conducted three object-dropping experiments aimed at exploring these abilities in Eurasian jays. In Experiment 1, jays tended to select large stones as tools irrespective of the diameter of the apparatus. However, jays progressively developed a preference for the small tool, which was functional with both the wide and the narrow apparatuses. In Experiment 2, only vertically oriented long stones could fit into the narrow apparatus, whereas both long and round stones were functional with the wide apparatus. Jays showed a preference for the long stone and, with the narrow apparatus, tended to achieve the correct manipulation after one or more unsuccessful attempts. In Experiment 3, jays were able to use sticks and adopt a novel technique on the same object-dropping apparatus, thus providing the first evidence that Eurasian jays can use sticks as tools. Taken together, these results do not support the notion that tool selectivity abilities can be found in Eurasian jays but nonetheless show that these corvids can use different kinds of tools to solve similar tasks.

Journal Title
Animal Behavior and Cognition
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Animal Behavior and Cognition
European Research Council (339993)
P.A. received financial support by the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei.