What fun it has been for the last six years observing the behaviour of visiting birds to my garden. Observational learning is what I have been doing but in my case the reward has been in seeing the variety of bird species arriving in my garden. I guess it’s quite apt that I take a bird break on a high point :-)
“Observational learning is when one animal can watch the actions of another and learn from those actions. This may be as simple as learning the location of a food source or as complicated as learning a sequence of actions that needs to be taken to earn a reward.http://www.animalbehavioronline.com/observationallearning.html
The most famous putative example of observational learning was the spread of the ability to open milk bottles, among blue tits, Parus caeruleus, and European robins, Erithacus rubeculain, in Great Britain. These birds learned to rob cream from the top of milk bottles during the early part of the 20th century, and the blue tits later adapted to the use of aluminum foil seals on the bottles, learning to tear them to access the cream. There are actually two hypotheses which could explain the increase in these behaviors: First, birds might observe other birds feeding in this manner and adopt the behavior. Second, each bird might, independently, discover this feeding option. This second possibility is particularly likely if a bottle opened by one bird serves as a clue to other birds that the bottles are food resources.”
Last week I was entertained for some time by the antics of what I thought was our regular male Brambling as it attempted to feed from a hanging peanut feeder. However, It wasn’t until the weekend when I was doing my Garden Birdwatch count that I spotted there were 3 males and a female around so it is possible that this wasn’t the Brambling seen with a female Reed Bunting during my count.
A group of three peanut feeders in my garden are popular with a wide variety of birds which include Blue tits, Coal tits and Great tits which you might expect. The Great Spotted Woodpecker and Starlings will also feed there getting a good grip on the metal cage and I have seen a Blackbird have a go on occasions.
However the peanut feeders in my garden are a hot spot for finches and Siskins can cover every space available – again fun to watch. I have also seen odd Goldfinches and Greenfinches feed here but never a male Chaffinch – the female Chaffinches could be a maybe.
More recently, perhaps due to no fat balls on offer this winter, House Sparrows are finding the peanut feeders a hot spot and it was groups of them that the male Brambling, shown above, was watching with great interest. Was this an example of Observational Learning?
I would take a guess that yes it could be as the Brambling had other options (much easier) to feed on. Did this Brambling rate the food choice by the House Sparrows as a good one and that is why it wasted energy that it needed on a cold winter’s day attempting to hold on to this feeder? I can only assume so. You have to see him try ...
Another assumption I’d make based on my gardenwatch observational learning over the last six years is that garden birds do appreciate the cover of plants especially ones like evergreen shrubs and trees where they can hide from predators. I’m guessing that’s why many people with a new house build garden find their new bird tables unvisited as the new young plants need time to grow. The birds will come.
A garden matures in many ways through use from all its residents. My eldest daughter had just celebrated her first birthday when we moved into this one and through observational learning my garden adapted as my daughters grew. I had great fun with this too.
During February I want to take a look back at the many changes my garden has seen. I do like the idea of a Memory Lane Month and if I get organised enough I might invite other bloggers to join me too. I’ve wanted to do this for some time now. After listening to other bloggers ask how can blogs stay fresh after many years I’ve decided this may be a refreshing spell during a dull month for many who find winter hard and long for summer days.
During March, I will return to the garden birds and wildlife that have distracted me from ironing, other household chores and gardening! It’s been a nice distraction, where I’ve learnt a lot about garden birds. Oh no… my dear garden blogging friends, I’ve not been an expert in this area at all. I have been an observational learner and what fun the last six years have been to share with you all – thank-you for joining me :-D
Wishing you all a great weekend! To my gardening friends, I'm looking forward to reconnecting with you all again soon! To my nature friends, see you in a month (unless something exciting visits the garden). Please do watch the video above as it is for you. Previous posts you might have missed include my birdcount results, snow shelter table and mixed seed trial. Enjoy your Winter visitors and if you are interested in hearing all about Waxwings do pop over to ShySongbird's Nature News there's a great post there :-D
This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in January 2013.