Chickadees are selfish group members when it comes to food caching

Vladimir V. Pravosudov, Timothy C. Roth, Lara D. LaDage

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Many food-caching animals live in groups and cache pilferage may be one of the negative consequences of social living. Several hypotheses have been proposed to suggest that individuals may benefit from caching even when cache pilferage is high if all individuals can cache and pilfer equally. Stable groups may hypothetically support the evolution of such 'reciprocal pilfering' because all group members may potentially have numerous opportunities to pilfer each other's caches. If that were the case, then we would expect animals to cache openly in front of their group members, but to avoid caching in direct view of unknown conspecifics. We tested this hypothesis by allowing mountain chickadees, Poecile gambeli, to cache food in three experimental conditions: (1) with a familiar observer from the same group and an unfamiliar conspecific observer; (2) with a familiar observer from the same group only and (3) without any observers. When presented with both a familiar and an unfamiliar observer, the caching chickadees treated both observers equally by choosing caching sites that were both farther away and out of sight of both observers. When only the familiar observer was present, chickadees shifted their choice of caching sites to the surfaces both away from and out of sight of the observer. When no observers were present, all available caching sites were used equally. Our results thus do not support the reciprocal cache sharing hypothesis and suggest that chickadees try to minimize cache pilferage from both familiar group members and unfamiliar conspecifics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)175-180
Number of pages6
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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