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Black-Capped Chickadees Are Masters Of Memory, Remarkably Remembering Exactly Where They’ve Stashed Away Thousands Of Seeds And Insects In Preparation For Colder Months

Rogney - stock.adobe.com - illustrative purposes only, not the actual bird

Usually, elephants are the animals associated with good memory. They are renowned for their ability to recall geographic locations and complex migration routes.

The common saying, “Elephants never forget,” was even inspired by them. However, there is another creature with incredible memorization skills—black-capped chickadees.

These small birds store away thousands of seeds and insects in preparation for the cold, harsh winters of North America. Somehow, they are able to remember exactly where they’ve stashed all their food.

According to a study published in the journal Cell, chickadees’ brains use “barcodes” to help them remember the locations of their food deposits.

“When you form a memory of a specific event, your brain may generate a random label which it uses to store information associated with that event, in a way that is analogous to the way that a store records information associated with each product to be retrieved when the label is scanned,” Selmaan Chettih, a co-author of the study and a neuroscientist at Columbia University.

To figure out what goes on in the brains of black-capped chickadees, researchers created an indoor arena fit for the tiny birds. In the arena, there were 128 sites where food could be concealed.

Next, they inserted probes into five chickadees’ brains so they could measure their electrical activity. Then, they placed the birds in the area and provided them with sunflowers.

The researchers also used six cameras and an artificial intelligence program to record and track the movements of the birds. They observed the chickadees hiding seeds all over the arena.

Every time a bird stashed food at a site, its hippocampus lit up with a pattern resembling a barcode on a product at the grocery store. The hippocampus is the part of the brain connected to memory and learning. When the bird returned to the site to retrieve the food, the same pattern appeared in its brain.

Rogney – stock.adobe.com – illustrative purposes only, not the actual bird

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