How would you deal with a situation where your ability to remember where you put something might actually mean life or death?
This is the situation Black-capped Chickadees find themselves in every winter. They need 20 times more food in the winter than they do in summer because they can lose 10% of their body weight just during a cold winter night. So they've got to eat often.
As autumn approaches, they begin hiding or caching seeds for the winter by the hundreds. In a behavior called "scatter-hoarding," each seed is individually hidden under tree bark or dead leaves.
The amazing thing is that they can accurately remember the location of each seed they hoard. Not only that, they also remember the quality of items they initially stored, making more of an effort to retrieve the higher quality food.
Scientists have found that the hippocampus region of the brain , the area associated with this type of spatial memory, is proportionately larger in chickadees than in other birds that do not cache food. Not only is it generally larger, it actually increases in size in the autumn and shrinks back to its original size each spring.
Look for the chickadee’s scatter-hoarding behavior at your feeders this fall, and just maybe you will learn a few tips from them on how to remember where you put the car keys.