U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service


Date of this Version



Physiology & Behavior 102 (2011) 158–163; doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2010.10.012


We learned previously that red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) use affective processes to shift flavor preference, and cognitive associations (colors) to avoid food, subsequent to avoidance conditioning. We conducted three experiments with captive red-winged blackbirds to reconcile varied consequences of treated food with conditioned sensory cues. In Experiment 1, we compared food avoidance conditioned with lithium chloride (LiCl) or naloxone hydrochloride (NHCl) to evaluate cue–consequence specificity. All blackbirds conditioned with LiCl (gastrointestinal toxin) avoided the color (red) and flavor (NaCl) of food experienced during conditioning; birds conditioned with NHCl (opioid antagonist) avoided only the color (not the flavor) of food subsequent to conditioning. In Experiment 2, we conditioned experimentally naïve blackbirds using free choice of colored (red) and flavored (NaCl) food paired with an anthraquinone- (postingestive, cathartic purgative), methiocarb- (postingestive, cholinesterase inhibitor), or methyl anthranilate-based repellent (preingestive, trigeminal irritant). Birds conditioned with the postingestive repellents avoided the color and flavor of foods experienced during conditioning; methyl anthranilate conditioned only color (not flavor) avoidance. In Experiment 3, we used a third group of blackbirds to evaluate effects of novel comparison cues (blue, citric acid) subsequent to conditioning with red and NaCl paired with anthraquinone or methiocarb. Birds conditioned with the postingestive repellents did not avoid conditioned color or flavor cues when novel comparison cues were presented during the test. Thus, blackbirds cognitively associate pre- and postingestive consequences with visual cues, and reliably integrate visual and gustatory experience with postingestive consequences to procure nutrients and avoid toxins.