Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MSc)



Program Name/Specialization

Behavioural Neuroscience


Faculty of Science

First Advisor

David White

Advisor Role



Brood parasites face considerable cognitive challenges when locating and selecting host nests for their young. One aspect of this challenge is determining how to use different sources of information to make decisions regarding the quality of a prospective nest. Here we investigate how female-brown-headed cowbirds, Molothrus ater, use information when prospecting for nests, and then expand upon this to investigate decisions related to foraging. In chapter 1, we demonstrated female could use social information acquired from observing the nest prospecting patterns of conspecifics to influence their own patterns of nest selection. Furthermore, we found a negative relationship between a female’s accuracy at using personal information and her tendency to copy others. In chapter 2, we found the females were able to use social information in a foraging setting as well. The female’s accuracy using personal information remained consistent across nest prospecting and foraging contexts however, the relationship between accuracy and tendency to copy others drastically reversed. A follow up experiment revealed the likely possibility that the differing relationship between personal and social information use depended on the degree of conflict that existed between the two types of information. In chapter 3, we redeveloped and implemented a new RFID tracking technology allowing us to investigate how the cognitive strategies from chapters 1 and 2 translated to a naturalistic, socially complex breeding environment. We found female cowbirds who spent more time prospecting, produced a greater quantity of eggs and demonstrated high accuracy scores during chapter 1 and 2, whereas females who relied on copying others spent significantly less time prospecting and demonstrated lower laying accuracy scores. By demonstrating how individuals’ cognitive strategies relate across context and translate to a socially complex setting, we have demonstrated the importance of examining behaviour in both of these settings and our RFID tracking technology provides researchers with the framework to effectively study this in the future.

Convocation Year


Convocation Season


Included in

Psychology Commons