Social learning in nest-building birds: a role for familiarity

Lauren Mary Guillette, Alice C Y Scott, Susan Denise Healy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


It is becoming apparent that birds learn from their own experiences of nest building. What is not clear is whether birds can learn from watching conspecifics build. As social learning allows an animal to gain information without engaging in costly trial-and-error learning, first-time builders should exploit the successful habits of experienced builders. We presented first-time nest-building male zebra finches with either a familiar or an unfamiliar conspecific male building with material of a colour the observer did not like. When given the opportunity to build, males that had watched a familiar male build switched their material preference to that used by the familiar male. Males that observed unfamiliar birds did not. Thus, first-time nest builders use social information and copy the nest material choices when demonstrators are familiar but not when they are strangers. The relationships between individuals therefore influences how nest-building expertise is socially transmitted in zebra finches.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20152685
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1827
Early online date23 Mar 2016
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2016


  • Nest building
  • Cognition
  • Birds
  • Social learning
  • Physical cognition


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