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The Effects of Social Learning On the Food Choice of the House Sparrow (Passer Domesticus)

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The effects of social feeding on the selection of novel coloured food and food intake by house sparrows (Passer domesticus) were studied in three experiments. In the first experiment, birds were given the choice of feeding on two novel types of coloured food after observations of an experienced bird feeding on them. These observers consumed more food of the colour that they had observed being eaten and also had an elevated total consumption compared to birds that had observed coloured food alone. In the second experiment, birds were given a choice between red and yellow food while adjacent to an experienced bird that was feeding on either red food or quinine-treated red food. The group observing consumption of treated red food consumed less red food than the other group. There was a significant correlation between consumption by the experienced bird and the consumption of red food by the observer which suggested that this effect was not due to a learned aversion. The third experiment was carried out to investigate the effect of previous experience on the behaviour of observers feeding in the presence of demonstrators eating red food or quinine-treated red food. The observers had either 'good' (untreated red food) or 'bad' (quinine-treated red food) experience before observation trials. It was found that only the previous good or bad experience of the observers affected consumption and there was no difference based on the feeding experiences of the demonstrators. These results are discussed in relation to the opportunities for, and types of, social learning of food preferences that may occur in house sparrow flocks.

Affiliations: 1: (Central Science Laboratory, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Tangley Place, Worplesdon, Guildford, Surrey, GU3 3LQ, UK


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