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    Physical cognition: birds learn the structural efficacy of nest material.
    Proc Biol Sci 2014 Jun 16;281(1784):20133225. Epub 2014 Apr 16.
    School of Biology, University of St Andrews, , Harold Mitchell Building, St Andrews, Fife KY16 9TH, UK, Roslin Institute, The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, University of Edinburgh, , Easter Bush EH25 9RG, UK.
    It is generally assumed that birds' choice of structurally suitable materials for nest building is genetically predetermined. Here, we tested that assumption by investigating whether experience affected male zebra finches' (Taeniopygia guttata) choice of nest material. After a short period of building with relatively flexible string, birds preferred to build with stiffer string while those that had experienced a stiffer string were indifferent to string type. After building a complete nest with either string type, however, all birds increased their preference for stiff string. The stiffer string appeared to be the more effective building material as birds required fewer pieces of stiffer than flexible string to build a roofed nest. For birds that raised chicks successfully, there was no association between the material they used to build their nest and the type they subsequently preferred. Birds' material preference reflected neither the preference of their father nor of their siblings but juvenile experience of either string type increased their preference for stiffer string. Our results represent two important advances: (i) birds choose nest material based on the structural properties of the material; (ii) nest material preference is not entirely genetically predetermined as both the type and amount of experience influences birds' choices.

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    Proc Biol Sci 2016 Mar;283(1827):20152685
    School of Biology, University of St Andrews, Harold Mitchell Building, St Andrews, Fife KY16 9TH, UK.
    It is becoming apparent that birds learn from their own experiences of nest building. What is not clear is whether birds can learn from watching conspecifics build. As social learning allows an animal to gain information without engaging in costly trial-and-error learning, first-time builders should exploit the successful habits of experienced builders. Read More
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    Physiol Behav 2008 Oct 11;95(3):370-80. Epub 2008 Jul 11.
    Department of Animal Sciences, University of California, Davis, United States.
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    Behav Processes 2013 Oct 13;99:106-11. Epub 2013 Jul 13.
    University of St Andrews, St Mary's College, South Street, St Andrews, Fife KY16 9JP, UK; Schools of Biology and Psychology, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, Fife KY16 9AJ, UK.
    Some bird species are selective in the materials they choose for nest building, preferring, for example, materials of one colour to others. However, in many cases the cause of these preferences is not clear. One of those species is the zebra finch, which exhibits strong preferences for particular colours of nest material. Read More
    Neural correlates of nesting behavior in zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata).
    Behav Brain Res 2014 May 4;264:26-33. Epub 2014 Feb 4.
    School of Biology, University of St. Andrews, Harold Mitchell Building, St. Andrews, KY16 9TH Scotland, United Kingdom. Electronic address:
    Nest building in birds involves a behavioral sequence (nest material collection and deposition in the nest) that offers a unique model for addressing how the brain sequences motor actions. In this study, we identified brain regions involved in nesting behavior in male and female zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata). We used Fos immunohistochemistry to quantify production of the immediate early gene protein product Fos (a molecular indicator of neuronal activity) in the brain correlated this expression with the variation in nesting behavior. Read More