Study Finds Magpies Faster at Scoring Cheetos But Crows Will Steal Them

Posted on August 11, 2016

Crow with a Cheeto

New research involving Cheetos, magpies and crows conducted in Jackson Hole, Wyoming reveals that magpies often lose discovered food to crows. A crow with a delicious cheesy Cheeto is pictured above. It probably stole the Cheeto from a magpie based on the findings of the research. The study found that magpies are able to get to Cheetos more quickly than crows but in the end crows take the Cheetos away from the magpies.

Rhea Esposito, an educational program leader at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, conducted the research. She says, "Cheetos are not the healthiest food, but the birds like them a lot. And because they are bright orange, it was really easy to observe when the birds completed the task."

Magpies moved in on the Cheetos an average of 20 seconds faster that crows. The crows were more suspicious of the orange snacks but once they were identified as food the crows were more apt to steal them from the magpies.

Esposito says, ""Because it's the nesting season, they are often close enough to see neighboring Cheetos piles. So crows would learn that there is food at the nearby magpie nest, as well as their own nest. Crows steal more often than magpies by a factor of three."

Esposito created tests where a Cheeto was hidden inside a log and the birds had to pull a string to get the Cheeto. The magpies solved this problem about a minute faster on average than the crows.

Esposito found that the crows appeared to use magpies as Cheeto scouts. They would wait for the smaller birds to explore the food. They then would land and shoo the magpies off their prize. The crows would then claim the Cheetos for themselves. Crows are about twice the size of magpies so it easy for them to bully the smaller birds.

The research was presented at the 101st Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Photo: Rhea Esposito