Relational Learning in Glaucous-Winged Gulls (Larus glaucescens)
An experimental approach was created for the comparative investigation of the cognitive abilities of the glaucous-winged gull (Larus glaucescens) in their natural habitat. The territoriality of gulls during the breeding period and the fact that the gulls inhabiting the territory of the Komandorsky Reserve are practically not in fear of humans allowed us to work with individually recognized birds directly at their nest sites inside the colony. The possibility of using this approach to investigate their cognitive abilities was demonstrated on 24 gulls, in particular, to investigate their abilities for relative size generalization. The first experiment illustrated that the gulls are able to learn to discriminate two pairs of stimuli according to the feature: 'larger' or 'smaller'. They were then given a test to transfer the discriminative rule in which novel combinations of the same stimuli were used. The gulls successfully coped with only a few of these tests. In the next experiment the birds were taught to discriminate four pairs of similar stimuli. The majority of the birds coped with the tests to transfer the discriminative rule both to the novel combinations of familiar stimuli, and also to the novel stimuli of the familiar category (items of different colour and shape). However, none of the birds transferred the discriminative rule to stimuli of a novel category (sets differing by number of components). Thus, in their ability to generalize at a preconceptual level gulls are more comparable with pigeons, whereas large-brained birds (crows and parrots), are capable of concept formation.