Gabrielle Davidson

Gabrielle1 Gabrielle Davidson

PhD Student

Department of Psychology
University of Cambridge
Downing Street
Cambridge CB2 3EB

gd339 AT

I grew up in Canada, near the Rocky Mountains, exploring the native wildlife. I was always fascinated by the intelligence of ravens and the collective aerial displays of the American crows near my home, flocking in the thousands in a nearby wood. These were some of the experiences which have taken me to a career in Zoology, completing my Bsc Zoology (Honours) at University College London, after which I began a PhD at the University of Cambridge to study corvid intelligence, supervised by Prof Nicola Clayton and Dr Alex Thornton.

Recent studies show that captive jackdaws respond to the eye and head direction of humans and conspecifics (gaze sensitivity). Little is known about how and when jackdaws use gaze in the wild, what psychological mechanisms underlie these abilities, or whether jackdaws’ unusual pale irises play an important role, similar to the pale white sclera in the human eye. By studying various corvid species in captivity and in the wild, I hope to understand how gaze sensitivity affects decisions about nesting locations, predator escape and foraging opportunities. I am also investigating whether having a conspicuous iris colour has enhanced gaze sensitivity in jackdaws, and if other passerine birds that also possess conspicuous irises evolved this character trait in response to particular biological factors.

  • New paper with UWA collaborators in Nature: Cognitive performance is linked to group size and affects fitness in Australian magpies.

    New HFSP grant: Collective behaviour and information transmission in heterogeneous societies. Collaborating with Nick Ouellette (Stanford) and Richard Vaughan (SFU)


    Cooperative breeding doesn’t make you smarter. New paper open access in Journal of Zoology


    New TREE paper: The evolution of individual and cultural variation in social learning

    New paper on human cumulative culture in Scientific Reports


    Jackdaws recognise human faces! Gabrielle’s new paper is out. See coverage on ITV and BBC


    New ESRC grant! Cognitive Requirements of Cumulative Culture: Expts with Typically Developing and Autistic People. Collaborating with Christine Caldwell & Francesca Happé

    New paper with Oxford collaborators in Nature: cultural conformity in great tits

    Enormous congratulations to Gabrielle who passed her PhD viva. Well done Dr Davidson!

    Comparative cognition can help conservation: read Alison’s new paper in TREE












    Coverage of Gabrielle’s Biology Letters paper in the press and on YouTube












    Gabrielle has a new paper accepted in Biology Letters! 


    Gabrielle’s gaze sensitivity review is out!













    Took part in our survey about corvids in your garden? Click here to see preliminary results.

    New publications: 

    - Comparative cognition for conservationists. Trends Ecol. Evol.

    - Towards wild psychometrics. Behav. Ecol.

    - How and why are some animals so smart?. Behav. Ecol.

    - Jackdaw nestlings can discriminate between conspecific calls but do not beg specifically to their parents. Behav. Ecol.

    – Salient eyes deter conspecific nest intruders in wild jackdaws (Corvus monedula). Biol. Lett.

    – Gaze sensitivity: function and mechanisms from sensory and cognitive perspectives. Anim. Behav.

    – Heterogeneous structure in mixed-species corvid flocks in flight. Anim. Behav.

    Animal Minds: Phil. Trans. issueAnimal Minds e1345931827281 Gabrielle Davidson

    -Identification of learning mechanisms in a wild meerkat population. PloS ONE

    – Innovative problem-solving in wild meerkats. Anim. Behav.

    – How do banded mongooses locate and select anvils for cracking encased food items? Behav. Proc.

    – Teaching can teach us a lot. Anim. Behav.

    – Cooperation and punishment in nature. TREE