Diffusion of novel foraging behaviour in Amazon parrots through social learning

Alejandra Morales Picard, Lauren Hogan, Megan L. Lambert, Anna Wilkinson, Amanda Madeleine Seed, Katie Slocombe

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While social learning has been demonstrated in species across many taxa, the role it plays in everyday foraging decisions is not well understood. Investigating social learning during foraging could shed light on the emergence of cultural variation in different groups. We used an open diffusion experiment to examine the spread of a novel foraging technique in captive Amazon parrots. Three groups were tested using a two-action foraging box, including experimental groups exposed to demonstrators using different techniques and control birds. We also examined the influence of agonistic and pilfering behaviour on task acquisition. We found evidence of social learning: more experimental birds than control birds interacted with and opened the box. The birds were, however, no more likely to use the demonstrated technique than the non-demonstrated one, making local or stimulus enhancement the most likely mechanism. Exhibiting aggression was positively correlated with box opening, whilst receiving aggression did not reduce motivation to engage with the box, indicating that willingness to defend access to the box was important in task acquisition. Pilfering food and success in opening the box were also positively correlated; however, having food pilfered did not affect victims’ motivation to interact with the box. In a group context, pilfering may promote learning of new foraging opportunities. Although previous studies have demonstrated that psittacines are capable of imitation, in this naturalistic set-up there was no evidence that parrots copied the demonstrated opening technique. Foraging behaviour in wild populations of Amazons could therefore be facilitated by low-fidelity social learning mechanisms.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)285-298
Number of pages14
JournalAnimal Cognition
Issue number2
Early online date26 Oct 2016
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2017


  • Social learning
  • Open diffusion
  • Two-action test
  • Amazona amazonica


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