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Birds, Like People, Can Remember Specific Events, Researchers Find

September 17, 1998

To scientists' surprise, birds have been found to have the kind of memory that enables people to recall where they left their car keys. Birds and humans split on the evolutionary tree 250 million years ago, so the finding suggests that fundamental mechanisms of information storage in the brain may have evolved even before the age of dinosaurs.

Research by British and American behavioral scientists shows that birds can remember not only where, but when, they hid critical items such as worms and other food. The birds even dig up less perishable food if too much time has passed and their favorite worms have probably rotted.

The study of scrub jays by Nicola S. Clayton of UC Davis and Anthony Dickinson of Cambridge University, published in today's Nature, marks what the researchers said is the first demonstration of episodic, or event-based, memory in animals other than humans.

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Compiled by Times medical writer Thomas H. Maugh II

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