Center for Avian Cognition


Date of this Version



Published in Brain, Behavior and Evolution 81 (2013), pp 56-70. doi 10.1159/000345560


Copyright © 2013 S. Karger AG, Basel. Used by permission.

PubMed version of author manuscript attached below.


The relative size of the avian hippocampus (Hp) has been shown to be related to spatial memory and food storing in two avian families, the parids and corvids. Basil et al. [Brain Behav Evol 1996;47: 156-164] examined North American food-storing birds in the corvid family and found that Clark’s nutcrackers had a larger relative Hp than pinyon jays and Western scrub jays. These results correlated with the nutcracker’s better performance on most spatial memory tasks and their strong reliance on stored food in the wild. However, Pravosudov and de Kort [Brain Behav Evol 67 (2006), 1-9] raised questions about the methodology used in the 1996 study, specifically the use of paraffin as an embedding material and recalculation for shrinkage. Therefore, we measured relative Hp volume using gelatin as the embedding material in four North American species of food-storing corvids (Clark’s nutcrackers, pinyon jays, Western scrub jays and blue jays) and one Eurasian corvid that stores little to no food (azure-winged magpies). Although there was a significant overall effect of species on relative Hp volume among the five species, subsequent tests found only one pairwise difference, blue jays having a larger Hp than the azure-winged magpies. We also examined the relative size of the septum in the five species. Although Shiflett et al. [J Neurobiol 51 (2002), 215-222] found a difference in relative septum volume amongst three species of parids that correlated with storing food, we did not find significant differences amongst the five species in relative septum. Finally, we calculated the number of neurons in the Hp relative to body mass in the five species and found statistically significant differences, some of which are in accord with the adaptive specialization hypothesis and some are not.