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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Observational Learning in a Glaucous-winged Gull Natural Colony


The ability of the Glaucous-winged Gull (Larus glaucescens) to observationally learn has been investigated in their natural habitat, in a gull’s colony located on Toporkov Island (Comandorsky State Nature Reserve, Far East, Russia). The experiment was carried out in the gull’s breeding period, when each bird’s pair in the colony occupies and protects vigilantly their small nesting sites surrounded by those of neighboring pairs. The gulls chosen to be demonstrators were trained to solve two different tasks both of which were not part of the species’ behavioral repertoire. The first task was obtaining a bait placed by an experimenter into an opaque box within the bird's visual field ; the second one was choosing a red box from a set of four identically-looking boxes differing only incolor. In contrast to the demonstrator gulls, which needed considerably training, most observers (the gulls nesting side-by-side with the demonstrators) performed the same tasks correctly in the first trial.Thus, gulls have proven to be capable of successful learning to solve simple choice tasks by observing what their conspecifics are doing. Observational learning can be a way to distribute individual experience among the gulls in a colony. The ability to observationally learn quickly maybe one of the factors underlying a higher adaptive potential of these birds.

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