Northern bald ibises follow others' gaze into distant space but not behind barriers

Loretto, M.-C.; Schloegl, C.; Bugnyar, T.

Biology Letters 6(1): 14-17


ISSN/ISBN: 1744-957X
PMID: 19656858
DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2009.0510
Accession: 037448766

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Gaze following is the ability to use the visual orientation of others as a trigger to look in the same direction. Thereby, animals may either align their head and eye orientation with others (gaze following into distant space) or may even reposition themselves to look behind barriers impairing their perception (geometrical gaze following). It has been proposed that these two different modes are functionally and cognitively distinct, but experimental evidence for this claim is lacking. We here, to our knowledge, demonstrate for the first time, that adult animals may be capable of following gaze into distant space, but not geometrically around barriers. We tested Northern bald ibises (Geronticus eremita) for their ability to follow a conspecific's gaze in two standard tasks. The birds readily looked up after seeing a model bird looking up; however, when seeing a model looking behind a barrier, they responded by looking at the barrier instead of walking around. These findings are in stark contrast to results obtained with great apes and corvids and provide the first experimental evidence, to our knowledge, for cognitive differences in gaze following tasks.