In winter, the birds must remember where they’ve hidden tens of thousands of seeds. Cognitive ecologist Vladimir Pravosudov [of the University of Nevada, Reno] explains what this can teach us about how the brain evolves.
Despite weighing less than half an ounce, mountain chickadees are able to survive harsh winters complete with subzero temperatures, howling winds and heavy snowfall. How do they do it? By spending the fall hiding as many as 80,000 individual seeds, which they then retrieve — by memory — during the winter. Their astounding ability to keep track of that many locations puts their memory among the most impressive in the animal kingdom.