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Culture Evolves$
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Andrew Whiten, Robert A. Hinde, Christopher B. Stringer, and Kevin N. Laland

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199608966

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:osobl/9780199608966.001.0001

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Social Learning in Birds and its Role in Shaping a Foraging Niche*

Social Learning in Birds and its Role in Shaping a Foraging Niche*

(p.55) Chapter 4 Social Learning in Birds and its Role in Shaping a Foraging Niche*
Culture Evolves

Tore Slagsvold

Karen L. Wiebe

Oxford University Press

We briefly review the literature on social learning in birds, concluding that strong evidence exists mainly for predator recognition, song, mate choice and foraging. The mechanism of local enhancement may be more important than imitation for birds learning to forage, but the former mechanism may be sufficient for faithful transmission depending on the ecological circumstances. To date, most insights have been gained from birds in captivity. We present a study of social learning of foraging in two passerine birds in the wild, where we cross-fostered eggs between nests of blue tits, Cyanistes caeruleus and great tits, Parus major. Early learning causes a shift in the foraging sites used by the tits in the direction of the foster species. The shift in foraging niches was consistent across seasons, as showed by an analysis of prey items, and the effect lasted for life. The fact that young birds learn from their foster parents, and use this experience later when subsequently feeding their own offspring, suggests that foraging behaviour can be culturally transmitted over generations in the wild. It may therefore have both ecological and evolutionary consequences, some of which are discussed.

Keywords:   cultural transmission, ecological niche, foraging conservatism, habitat preferences, speciation

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