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What We Can Learn From the Memory Bird

We've learned about war from hummingbirds and we can learn about memory from a strange little bird call the Clark's nutcracker. Biologists who study squirrels have come to the conclusion that they have rather limited memories and don't really "find" the nuts they bury, they just dig up ones that some other squirrel has hidden. But these birds bury tiny nuts in a 15 mile radius, then remember where they put them months later. Those of us who are forgetful would like to know how it's done.

Scientists at the University of New Hampshire wanted to learn more about memory and its evolution by studying this bird. What makes it unique is that it harvests more than 30,000 pine nuts, buries them in up to 5,000 caches, and then relies almost solely on its memory of where those caches are located to survive through the winter.

Biologist Brett Gibson says, "For us it would probably be very difficult to remember where we put 33,000 items, but these guys do it really well because of the environment they live in?Nutcrackers are almost exclusively dependent upon cache recovery for their survival so if they don't remember where they've made those caches, then they are in trouble. During winter, their cache locations are covered with snow so many of the small local features in the landscape during fall are no longer available to them. What's clear is that they are?remembering these caches based on landmarks and other features of the terrain."

The study of Nutcracker memory is important because it helps us understand how memory develops and evolves. It teaches us about how we and other species successfully navigate using memory. It also provides insights about brain function and the hippocampus, a part of the brain important for memory and one of the first regions of the brain to suffer damage in Alzheimer's patients.

We study nature to learn greater truths. Some of the most amazing of these phenomenon is crop circles. They are giving us a message, but what is it and where does it come from? We may not have the answer to that question right now, but we can still enjoy their beauty. One of the people who bought our beautiful crop circle calendar?which is available exclusively on our web site store, wrote: "I bought the 2006 and 2007 calendar for my sister as a Christmas present. When my husband saw them he had to have the 2006 for his desk at work. The crop circle pictures are truly amazing. I did not realize crop circles are so intrinsic and so beautiful. A must have."

To keep up with the latest crop circle news, listen to science reporter Linda Howe's reports on Dreamland every week. And if you want us to be able to KEEP bringing you the best news at the edge, support us: subscribe today!

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