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No. 28: Jul-Aug 1983

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Memory in food-hoarding birds

Birds are not popularly thought to possess superlative memories, but the behavior of food-hoarding birds proves this is untrue. Several species of birds gather huge quantities of food when it is abundant and cache it for later use. On the surface this trait does not seem remarkable, but a look at the numbers of caches involved belies this superficial evaluation, especially to a species who forgot where he put the car keys a few hours ago.

Take Clark's nutcracker as an ex-ample. A bird of the U.S. Southwest, Clark's nutcracker harvests conifer seeds when in season and buries them for future use during the rest of the year. One bird may bury as many as 33,000 seeds in thousands of caches, 4-5 seeds per cache. Its memory guides it back to those caches during the next year.

(Shettleworth, Sara J.; "Memory in Food-Hoarding Birds,; Scientific American, 248:102, March 1983.)

Comment. Such capabilities should not be filed away under "Isn't nature wonderful?" or "Gee whiz!" The import of these special characteristics is suggested in a quote from the article: "... certain species have adaptive specializations that make them particularly good at learning and remembering things it is important for them to know."

Clark's nutcracker: Food-hoarding bird

From Science Frontiers #28, JUL-AUG 1983. 1983-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987