A Bird Meme

In the early 1900s, blue tits and robins had easy access to cream from the tops of open milk bottles left on humans’ doorsteps. After World War I, the humans began to seal the bottle tops with aluminum foil. But remarkably, by the 1950s the entire blue tit population of the United Kingdom had learned pierce the foil to reach the cream, while the robins hadn’t.

The difference lay in cultural transmission: A blue tit can learn a new behavior by observing another bird performing it. Robins generally can’t do this — while an individual robin might learn to pierce the foil, it has no way to pass on this discovery to other robins. Young blue tits are reared in flocks in which they can observe one another, which is an advantage; robins are territorial and have fewer such opportunities.