Some tropical birds collect their prey at army ant raids, where massive swarms of ants sweep through the forest and drive out insects. The behaviour of interest is called bivouac checking; it allows these birds to track the cyclical raid activity of army ant colonies. Army ants have regular alternating periods of high and low raiding activity, and birds visit the ants’ temporary nest sites (bivouacs) to determine which colonies are raiding on a given day.
The new findings published October 14 in the journal Behavioural Ecology, suggest that bivouac checking allows birds to keep track of multiple army ant colonies, keeping account of which colonies are in periods of high-raiding activity while avoiding colonies with low-raiding activity.
Recent research has discovered that birds check army ant bivouacs at the end of the day, after they have fed at the raid. They may use the information about the army ant nest location the next day to find the ants again, thus accessing a past memory (the nest location) to fulfil a future need (bird will be hungry tomorrow), also known as ‘mental time-travel’.