Eavesdropping squirrels reduce their future value of food under the perceived presence of cache robbers

Kenneth A. Schmidt, Richard S. Ostfeld

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Caching behavior frequently occurs within a social context that may include heterospecific cache pilferers. All else equal, the value of cacheable food should decline as the probability of cache recovering declines. We manipulated gray squirrels' (Sciurus carolinensis) estimate of the probability of cache recovery using experimental playbacks of the vocalizations of a potential cache robber, the blue jay (Cyanocitta cristata). We used giving-up densities (GUDs) to quantify relative changes in squirrels' valuation of cacheable and noncacheable foods. We collected GUDs during playback experiments to test whether squirrels (1) eavesdrop on vocalizations to detect jay presence, (2) devalue cacheable food in the (perceived) presence of jays (i.e., perceive jays as cache pilferers), and (3) are sensitive to distant effects (i.e., lower devaluation of cacheable food at sites far from the perceived location of jays). Consistent with our predictions, squirrels decreased the value of cacheable hazelnuts by two nuts, on average, during jay playbacks, but only at foraging stations near the jay playback sites. We conclude that through eaves-dropping, squirrels assess site-specific risks of cache pilfering and alter their caching behavior to reduce the likelihood of pilferage. Evidence suggests that tree seed consumers in eastern deciduous forests exist within a complex communication network.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)386-393
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2008


  • Cyanocitta cristata
  • Eavesdropping
  • Food caching
  • Future value
  • Giving-up density
  • Sciurus carolinensis


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