High-Altitude Mountain Chickadees Are Better Problem-Solvers Than Lower-Altitude Mountain Chickadees

Living on harsh, unforgiving icy mountains can make one mentally sharper, and this applies to birds as well. That's what Dr. Dovid Kozlovsky and his colleagues at the University of Nevada in the United States believe after finding that mountain chickadees (Poecile gambeli) that live at higher altitudes are better problem solvers than birds of the same species hailing from lower regions. Their new findings were published online on February 17, 2015 in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. The article is titled “Problem Solving Ability and Response to Novelty in Mountain Chickadees (Poecile gambeli) from Different Elevations.” Mountain chickadees, a North American bird in the tit family, store away food for later occasions. These birds are found at different elevations, where varying winter conditions are experienced. Previous research showed that mountain chickadees living at harsher high elevations have bigger hippocampi, a part of the brain that plays an important role in memory and spatial navigation. These high-elevation chickadees also have far superior spatial memory relative to lower-elevation chickadees. This helps the high-altitude chickadee to be better at remembering where they hid food away. Animals living in challenging or unpredictable environments such as deserts or snowy mountain peaks are generally thought to have enhanced mental abilities. These include being better able to solve problems and not shying away from inspecting new things. To understand if this is true for mountain chickadees, Dr. Kozlovsky and his colleagues caught 24 young birds, in the Sagehen Experimental Forest in California, that had not yet experienced a winter. Twelve birds were caught at a site approximately 1,800 meters above sea level, while another dozen were captured at 2,400 meters above sea level.
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