We’ve all seen a magpie get distracted by something sparkly on the ground. If you’ve ever wondered why some animals seem fascinated by shiny things, you’re not alone. As it turns out, there are some good evolutionary reasons for this behavior.

If you’re short on time, here’s the key point: Animals like magpies and ravens are attracted to shiny objects because their brains are wired to notice novelty. This helps them find rare food sources and suitable mates more efficiently.

In this approximately 3000 word article, we’ll explore the phenomenon of animals attracted to bling in more depth. We’ll learn which species show this behavior most prominently and why it evolved. We’ll also bust some common myths and reveal some of the latest scientific insights into corvid cognition.

What Kinds of Animals Like Shiny Things?


Magpies are well-known for their attraction to shiny objects like jewelry, coins, aluminum foil, and mirrors. According to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, magpies incorporate shinies and glittery items into their nests to decorate them and attract mates.

Studies have found magpies show a preference for more colorful, natural objects like pebbles over human-made items like bottlecaps. One magpie was observed collecting over 1,000 shiny objects!


Like their close corvid cousin the magpie, ravens also demonstrate an affinity for collecting glittery items for their nests and hoards. Research in 2016 revealed ravens specifically seek out shinies more so than dull items even if they’re similar looking.

When pieces of metal are intermingled with pieces of wood varnished with silver, bronze, and golden paint, ravens favor selecting the metallic painted wood chips. Ravens also recognize themselves in mirrors, so scientists believe an attraction to reflective surfaces connects to self-recognition abilities and complex cognitive processes in these clever birds


Among the most romantic examples of animals attracted to shinies are the enthusiastic male bowerbirds. To impress potential mates, male bowerbirds decorate elaborate bowers or nests with brightly colored and shiny trinkets like shells, berries, flowers, pebbles, and plastic bits.

A study of regent bowerbirds in Australia found the amount and type of decorations can determine mating success, with females preferring males who integrated more artificial items like glass or aluminum foil into bowers. The vibrant and reflective displays make for quite a spectacular sight!

Animal Shiny Objects Collected Purpose
Magpies Jewelry, coins, aluminum foil Nest decoration, attract mates
Ravens Metallic painted wood, mirrors Nest decoration, self-recognition
Bowerbirds Flowers, berries, shells, plastic bits Attract potential mates

It’s fascinating to observe the brilliant methods birds employ when seeking and integrating glittery treasures into constructions and displays. From self-aware ravens to romantic bowerbirds, sparkly things can serve diverse yet vital roles in the lives of our fine feathered friends!

Theories on Why Animals Love Bling

Novelty Detection Theory

The novelty detection theory suggests that animals are instinctively drawn to shiny objects because they stand out as something new or different in the environment (Fawcett et al., 2013). From an evolutionary perspective, detecting novelty would have helped animals identify important things like water sources, food sources, or potential predators.

So animals may have an innate drive to explore and investigate shiny objects.

Studies have shown that animals like birds and fish often prefer shiny metallic objects over dull ones when given a choice (Muth & Healy, 2014). Magpies, in particular, are well known for collecting shiny objects like bottle caps and pieces of aluminum foil to decorate their nests with.

This attraction to bling allows magpies to quickly identify new objects that appear in their environment.

Sexual Selection Theory

The sexual selection theory proposes that male animals use shiny objects to attract females during courtship displays. Bright and reflective objects stand out and catch the eye – making them effective signals for wooing mates.

For instance, bowerbirds known for their elaborate courting rituals called “bower shows.” Males decorate stick nests with colorful and metallic trinkets to impress visiting females. The shinier the bower, the more attractive the male appears to potential mates.

Other examples include hummingbirds who have shiny, iridescent feathers and flamboyant peacocks with gleaming tail feathers (Doucet & Meadows, 2009). The flashier the bling, the higher reproductive success.

Associative Learning Theory

This theory suggests animals develop a preference for shiny objects through learned associations between bling and rewards like food. For example, crows living in cities forage for food around humans. As they scavenge for scraps, they encounter coins, jewelry, tin foil, and other glinting discarded items near food sources.

Crows learn to associate these shiny finds with the presence of food. So the sparkling objects become rewarding in and of themselves, even without food around. Experiments have shown that crows will repeatedly select shiny metal objects like bottle caps when presented with a mixture of metallic and dull items (Jolles et al., 2013).

This tendency likely started out as a foraging adaptation in urban environments full of flashy trash.

Myths and Misconceptions

Myth: Magpies Are Just Greedy Thieves

It’s a common belief that magpies love shiny objects purely because they are greedy birds who want to steal and hoard valuables. But research suggests there is more to it than that.

One study found that wild magpies incorporate shiny objects like bottle caps and pieces of aluminum foil into their nests as a way to impress potential mates. Males will collect more shiny objects than females and display them to females they are courting.

So for magpies, gathering eye-catching trinkets seems to be a mating strategy, not just random thieving.

Myth: Only Birds Like Shiny Objects

Magpies and bowerbirds may be the poster children for animals attracted to glittery things, but it turns out they are not the only species that are a bit vain when it comes to decorating their homes and personas. For example:

  • Orangutans have been observed collecting colorful objects like beads or aluminum to wear as “bracelets.”
  • Crows living among humans will sometimes incorporate metal pieces and brightly colored candy wrappers in their nests.
  • Chimpanzees are fascinated by mirrors and will examine their own reflections.

So an eye for unique bling in the animal kingdom goes beyond our feathered friends.

Myth: Animals Mistake Shiny Items as Food

Sometimes people assume animals pick up random sparkly objects because they mistakenly think it might be something good to eat. But research indicates animals that collect shiny items do not try to consume them.

They are purposefully collecting these eye-catching curiosities solely for decoration and aesthetic appeal.

For example, one analysis of objects in bowerbird nests found that while the birds added many blue plastic toothpicks and other blue-colored items, they did not confuse them for actual food. None of the plastic decor ended up pecked apart or damaged from attempts to eat it.

Latest Research on Corvid Cognition

Tool Use and Innovation

Recent studies have uncovered the remarkable tool use and innovation abilities of corvids, particularly crows, ravens, and jays. Crows have been observed spontaneously bending wires into hooks to extract food from difficult to reach areas, an impressive example of insight and creativity.

One captive New Caledonian crow named Betty amazed researchers when she spontaneously bent a piece of wire into a hook shape to lift a small bucket containing food out of a tube. Wild American crows living in cities have learned to use cars as nutcrackers by dropping nuts in front of traffic so the shells crack when run over.

They even appear to wait for traffic signals to ensure their nut-cracking method is safe and effective. Such innovative tool use highlights how intelligent and adaptable corvid minds truly are.

Social Learning

Corvids like ravens and crows possess advanced social learning skills and spread new behaviors through their social groups quickly. In one remarkable experiment, researchers taught wild New Caledonian crows to place a paper card into a vending machine to receive food.

This novel behavior spread rapidly, with young crows learning it through imitation and social transmission from elders. Within 3 years, the paper card vending machine technique spread over a 1200 mile radius, demonstrating how effectively corvids can socially transmit new and advantageous skills.

Recent research has also uncovered that ravens can deduce social relationships and rank by observing other ravens interacting, evidence that they have a “theory of mind” capacity rare in the animal kingdom.

Theory of Mind

Theory of mind, the ability to attribute mental states like desires and intentions to others, has long been considered a solely human capacity. However, recent experiments provide compelling evidence that corvids like ravens may also possess this cognitive talent.

In creative experiments, ravens were shown “sneaky” scenarios with one bird competing against another over hidden food. The ravens consistently predicted where the competitor would search based on what it had witnessed, indicating an understanding that the other bird had its own perspective and mental state.

Another experiment had ravens pilfer food being hidden by researchers, showing an ability to put themselves into the experimenter’s shoes. Understanding others’ motives and perceptions likely helps corvids like ravens successfully compete over food and resources in complex social environments.


As we’ve explored, certain animals like magpies and bowerbirds have an innate attraction to all things shiny. This behavior likely evolved to help them efficiently locate useful resources and desirable mates.

While we tend to anthropomorphize corvids and assume they just like bling for vain or petty reasons, the truth is their brains are wired differently. Shiny objects capture their attention thanks to enhanced novelty detection and associative learning capabilities.

Understanding why animals covet sparkly things gives us a fascinating window into avian intelligence. As leading theories suggest, shiny objects indicate valuable resources worth investigating for clever corvids.

Next time you see a magpie abscond with something glittery, take a moment to appreciate its complex cognition rather than cursing its supposed greed or foolishness!

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