When a male Eurasian jay courts a female bird, like any good suitor he includes food in his offer to a would-be mate. But this bird doesn't gift worms at random. A new report published in the scientific journal Biology Letters shows that a male jay recognizes the food preferences of a female bird.
During the March to June breeding season, British scientists gave nine pairs of jays a blend of insects: wax moth larvae and mealworms. After observing a female jay pick and choose from the grub salad, the male then shared additional bugs with her. More often than not, the male jay offered the female jay the same type of grub he had watched her eat.
This study mirrors what scientists have found in human adults and children, according to the researchers. "We 'put ourselves into someone else's shoes' in order to respond to what the other person wants," says Nicky Clayton, a neuroscientist who studies birds at Cambridge University. Although humans are biased toward their own desires, she says, we can overcome this preference to give others what they want. And as this study suggests, it's not just humans who have empathetic traits -- the birds do, too.