Are wild hybrid chickadees cognitively impaired?

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We will soon launch a new cognitive ecology element of our research program on chickadee hybridization. This new work will be supported by an NSF Research Opportunity Award (ROA): this funding supplement will enable Dr. Curry to participate in the NSF-funded collaborative research of Drs. Amber Rice (Lehigh), Scott Taylor (Colorado), and Tim Roth (Franklin & Marshall).

Rice’s group recently showed that in captivity, hybrid chickadees perform poorly on cognitive tasks (spatial memory and problem-solving) relative to parental Black-capped and Carolina chickadees.

The ROA funding will support our new work to test whether the same patterns are evident among chickadees in natural populations … and to investigate possible fitness consequences—such as reduced survival—of cognitive impairment. For the spatial memory tests, we will use the ‘smart feeder’ protocols developed by Vladimir Pravosudov et al. for their studies of spatial memory in Mountain Chickadees.


McQuillan, M. A., T. C. Roth, A. V. Huynh, and A. M. Rice. 2018. Hybrid chickadees are deficient in learning and memory. Evolution 72:1155–1164

Rice, A. M., and M. A. McQuillan. 2018. Maladaptive learning and memory in hybrids as a reproductive isolating barrier. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 285:20180542

Sonnenberg, B. R., C. L. Branch, A. M. Pitera, E. Bridge, and V. V. Pravosudov. 2019. Natural selection and spatial cognition in wild food-caching Mountain Chickadees. Current Biology 29:670-676.e3