The Intelligence of Crows
(includes Crows, Ravens, Magpies, Jays, Rooks, Parrots & Cockatoos)
Next to Humans the Smartest Animals on the Planet.
Problem Solving Ability of a Crow is Equivalent
to that of 7-Year-Old Human Children.
The mirror test is an experiment developed in 1970 by psychologist Gordon Gallup Jr. to determine whether an animal possesses the ability to recognize itself in a mirror. It is the primary indicator of self-awareness in non-human animals and marks entrance to the mirror stage by human children in developmental psychology. Animals that pass the mirror test are: Humans older than 18 mo, Chimpanzees, Bonobos, Orangutans, Gorillas, Bottlenose Dolphins, Orcas (Killer Whales), Elephants, and European Magpies. Others showing signs of self-awareness are Pigs, some Gibbons, Rhesus Macaques, Capuchin Monkeys, some Corvids (Crows & Ravens) and Pigeons w/training.
4-1-22 Crows may owe their intelligence to an abundance of certain neurons
Corvids such as rooks and crows seem to have a unusually high number of interneurons, brain cells involved in processing information. Crows can recognise themselves in mirrors, use tools and plan for the future, all cognitive abilities more similar to non-human primates than to those of most other birds. This intelligence may be related to an unusually high number of brain cells involved in processing information. Felix Ströckens at the Ruhr University Bochum in Germany and his colleagues analysed the brains of ostriches (Struthio camelus), brown warren chickens (Gallus gallus domesticus), racing homer pigeons (Columba livia domestica) and three members of the corvid family: carrion crows (Corvus corone), hooded crows (Corvus cornix) and rooks (Corvus frugilegus). The animals had all been killed for food or pest control. The researchers ground up the birds’ brains in such a way that the nuclei of all the brain cells were kept intact using a method called isotropic fractionation. This allowed the team to categorise the types of cells present in each brain and estimate how many there were of each. The team found that crows had the highest number of interneurons, small cells that pass on local signals and are involved in cognitive processing. These cells process information received from sensory neurons and send inputs to motor neurons. They are involved in tasks such as decision masking, future planning and risk assessment. “Many studies have shown that different subsets of interneurons are extremely important in behaviours that are termed ‘intelligent’ in both mammals and birds,” says Ströckens. The crows each had about 290 million interneurons, compared to 124 million in ostriches and around 40 million in the pigeons and chickens. Humans have about 1.3 billion interneurons. The difference was especially stark between ostriches and crows because the brain of an ostrich weighs nearly double a crow’s brain.
10-27-21 Is it normal behaviour for rooks to bury bread rather than eat it?
Almost every day, an Australian raven drops a hard crust of bread in our birdbath. It comes back after 20 minutes or so to retrieve and eat it, once soft. I am sure the rook described in the question – a fellow corvid – is doing a similar thing. No doubt the moisture in the earth softens the bread too. Many years ago, at work, we had a mobile service with coffee and toast for sale. My ground-floor office looked out onto a grassy area, and the kitchen was opposite. Every day, around 10.30 am, rooks would start to assemble on the roof above the kitchen. Then, as the coffee service finished, the servers would toss the unsold toast out of the window. The rooks would swoop, grab a slice of toast, tear it into pieces and bury it. I never did see them return for the spoils, though. Rooks and other corvids, such as crows and ravens, are extremely clever, with intellectual abilities on a par with those of chimpanzees. What makes them different from other species of bird is that they can imagine the future and plan for it. They have self-control, too, and can think what they will benefit from later, compared with right now. This is one reason why they might bury bits of bread. It is common corvid behaviour to cache food, and one species, the California scrub jay, can act deceptively if another bird is watching it bury food and pretend to move its cache to a new place. What’s more, it is only those birds that have been thieves in the past that do so, suggesting that it takes a thief to know one, and that the behaviour isn’t hard wired or simply a product of learning through trial and error. Corvids have a suite of other cognitive abilities. They are good at problem-solving and memory puzzles and they can even use tools. Rooks at a motorway service station in the UK have been observed using bin liners as a tool, cooperating in pairs to pull the liner up from rubbish bins in tandem in order to gain access to food – a process that takes at least 20 pulls. This is why I call corvids “minds with wings”.
8-31-21 Wild cockatoos make utensils out of tree branches to open fruit pits
Some wild cockatoos whittle tree branches into utensils that they use to open and dig into the seed-laden pits, or stones, of tropical fruit. This is the first known instance of wild, non-primate animals making and using tool sets, say Mark O’Hara and Berenika Mioduszewska at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna. O’Hara, Mioduszewska and their colleagues regularly study wild Goffin’s cockatoos (Cacatua goffiniana) in Indonesia. They occasionally capture the small, white parrots and keep them in an outdoor aviary to observe their behaviour before releasing them. In the Indonesian islands, Goffin’s cockatoos are the only known species to eat sea mangos, a small, tropical fruit toxic to humans. The researchers offered the hard-pitted fruit to the 15 cockatoos in their aviary. Immediately, two of the larger and apparently older male birds grabbed a sea mango and flew into a tree to strip wood from the branches with their beaks. They also cut off whole branches and dug into the remaining stump to mine out pulpy wood. Using their tongues and beaks, the parrots crafted the wood slivers into usable tools of three different sizes and thicknesses, O’Hara says. Then, aiming with their beaks, they artfully jabbed their cutlery into the fruit’s pit. “After I gave them the fruit, I looked back and was just blown away seeing a [bird] using tools on it,” says O’Hara. The researchers collected the birds’ discarded tools and created 3D models of them to better understand how they were made and the purposes they served. The thinnest tools were sharp like knives and let the birds pierce the pit’s parchment-like coating, O’Hara says. Medium-sized tools worked like spoons, allowing the birds to dig into the pit and pull out nutritious seeds. Sometimes the cockatoos also used the thickest tool as a wedge, prying the pit apart at its natural crack, which made it easier to shove their knives and spoons inside. “They definitely knew the fruit, and they knew what to do with it,” says O’Hara.
7-22-21 Cockatoos are figuring out how to open bins by copying each other
A few curious cockatoos learned how to open residential waste bins in Australia, and now other birds have started copying them, with incidences of bin-looting spreading across eastern Australia in easily traceable waves. “If they had learned it individually, we would have seen this popping up randomly, but their method is really spreading from one suburb to the next,” says Barbara Klump at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behaviour in Germany. A few years ago, Richard Major at the Australian Museum Research Institute in Sydney filmed one of several sulphur-crested cockatoos (Cacatua galerita) lifting a bin lid, and he shared the video with Klump’s colleague. Intrigued, the researchers asked suburbanites around Sydney and Wollongong to help them trace the phenomenon by reporting whether they saw, or didn’t see, incidences of bin-looting in their neighbourhoods. When the team started the project in 2018, scientists had documented bin-opening by cockatoos in three suburbs. But by late 2019, based on 1396 reports, the birds were looting bins in 44 suburbs. Mapping the reported sightings, the scientists detected a clear pattern of knowledge-sharing as incidences spread geographically outward from the starting sites. Video analyses reveal a complex five-step process, including prying, opening, holding, walking and flipping, all requiring particular head and leg movements around the lid and positioning on the base. The researchers suspect that only a handful of individuals figured out how to open bins on their own. Variations in the technique also apparently followed a geographical spreading pattern. The team used small dots of paint to mark more than 500 birds in bin-raiding hotspots and found that about 10 per cent could open the bins. These were mostly bigger males, which might have found it easier to open the heavy lids or might have had more access to bins because they were more dominant, she says.
1-24-20 The parrots who look out for their pals
Researchers in Germany have observed parrots carrying out seemingly “selfless” acts of kindness—behavior that has previously only been seen in humans and a few other primates. Désirée Brucks, a biologist at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, trained several African grey parrots to pass her small metal tokens when she held out her hand, in exchange for a walnut treat. She then placed two of the birds in adjacent clear-walled compartments with a small opening between them; one compartment also had a hole at the front. Brucks gave the tokens to one parrot, but only the other bird could reach her hand. Immediately, the parrot with the tokens started passing them through the opening to its neighbor, who could then exchange them for food. The first parrot carried on helping its feathered friend even though it received nothing in return. To make sure the birds weren’t just playing, Brucks blocked the hole at the front and didn’t hold out her hand—and the parrot passed far fewer tokens. This “prosocial” behavior isn’t apparent in all birds; when the experiment was repeated with blue-headed macaws, the birds only acted selfishly. It’s unclear why African greys have evolved to be helpful. But the study adds to a growing body of evidence that birds are smarter than their small brains suggest. “I think we have underestimated birds,” Brucks tells CNN.com. “We’ve been too focused on our close relations like primates.”
1-10-20 Puffins that use tools
Puffins have been spotted scratching themselves with sticks—the first time wild seabirds have been observed using tools. Researchers saw two Atlantic puffins, one in Wales and one on an Icelandic island, using sticks as grooming devices. In footage from Iceland, a puffin waddles toward the camera, grabs a stick with its beak, and scratches itself under its chest with the piece of wood. The bird then drops the stick rather than taking it home to its nest. Researchers say the puffin was likely trying to knock off ticks, which plague seabird populations. Other birds—including crows and parrots—have been spotted using tools, but never for anything other than acquiring hard-to-reach food. Only primates and elephants are known to use tools for other tasks. Study author Annette Fayet says her findings suggest we may have underestimated birds’ cognitive abilities. “Many more species may also be using tools,” she tells CNN.com, “but we simply haven’t observed them yet.”
1-9-20 African grey parrots are smart enough to help a bird in need
African grey parrots are not only really smart, they are helpful too. They are the first bird species to pass a test that requires them both to understand when another animal needs help and to actually give assistance.. Besides humans, only bonobos and orangutans have passed this test, says Désirée Brucks at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in Germany. Even chimps and gorillas have failed at it. Brucks and her colleague Auguste von Bayern first trained birds one at a time. Each was given a pile of tokens – small metal washers – and taught that they could exchange them for food by passing them to a researcher through a small hole in a clear screen. A month later, two birds were separated from each other and the researcher by clear screens. One bird was given a pile of tokens but the hole between it and the researcher was blocked. The other bird’s hole to the researcher was open but it had no tokens. There was a third hole in the screen between the two birds, allowing them to pass objects through, as shown above. Seven out of eight African grey parrots passed tokens through this third hole to birds without tokens, so those birds could swap them for food. They passed more tokens when the other bird was one they spend lots of time with – a “friend” – but still did it for birds they spend little time with. If there was no other bird, they didn’t pass tokens through the hole. And if both holes to the researcher were closed so neither bird could exchange tokens for food, those with tokens passed far fewer to the other bird. This test requires both intelligence and helpfulness, says Brucks. “They need to understand that the other bird is in need of help.” The pair also tested blue-headed macaws, but found they didn’t help other macaws. In 2015, another team found that ravens didn’t help each other either.
12-31-19 Stick-toting puffins offer the first evidence of tool use in seabirds
Two birds observed four years and a sea apart turned sticks into feather scratchers. Annette Fayet was scanning a colony of Atlantic puffins off the coast of Wales when something caught her eye. A puffin, gently bobbing on the sea, held a stick in its orange-black bill. Then, the seabird used it to scratch its back. “I was surprised and excited,” says Fayet, an ecologist at the University of Oxford who studies puffin migration. Puffins (Fratercula arctica) had never been seen using tools. In fact, no seabird had. Fayet recorded the unusual behavior in her notebook, but it would take four more years before she got photographic evidence. In 2018 on Grimsey Island in Iceland, one of her motion-sensitive camera captured a puffin snatching a stick from the ground and using it to scratch its chest feathers. Those observations, described December 30 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, represent the only known example of a bird in the wild using a tool to scratch itself. Scientists have long known that some birds use tools, mostly to extract food. Stick-wielding crows wow biologists with their ingenuity (SN: 9/14/16), some parrots grind down seashells with pebbles and Egyptian vultures can crack ostrich eggs with rocks. But seabirds, which tend to have smaller brains, were written off as prospective tool users, Fayet says. The puffin discovery suggests that tool use in birds may be more widespread and varied than previously thought, she and her colleagues say. “I’m not surprised that seabirds can use tools,” says Corina Logan, a behavioral ecologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, who wasn’t involved in the study. She says so many creatures’ cognitive abilities remain undiscovered because detecting them takes so much time and energy.
9-20-19 Crows get it wrong
An Indian villager has been attacked by a group of vengeful crows every day for the past three years. Shiva Kewat of Sumela said the “sudden and frightening” assaults began after he tried to rescue a chick who’d become stuck in iron netting. “It died in my hands,” he said. “They believe I killed the chick.” Kewat said the squawking birds dive-bomb only him, not other people, and that the attacks commence the moment he leaves his house. “If only I can explain to them, I was only trying to help.”
8-26-19 City crows may have high cholesterol because they eat fast food
Crows living in urban areas have higher blood cholesterol levels than their rural counterparts. That may be due to humans feeding them, and the fast food we leave behind. Crows are “experts at raiding human trash cans and dumpsters,” says Andrea Townsend at Hamilton College in New York. Some of the food they scavenge is fast food, which is often high in cholesterol, but it’s unclear how this may be affecting the birds’ health. Townsend and her colleagues measured cholesterol in blood samples taken from 140 crow nestlings in rural, suburban and urban areas in California. They also measured the birds’ body mass and fat reserves, and tracked their survival rates. They found that the more urban the surroundings, the higher the blood cholesterol in the crow nestlings living there. To see if access to the kinds of foods that raise cholesterol in humans were responsible, the team ran a “cheeseburger supplementation experiment” where they left McDonald’s cheeseburgers near nests in rural New York. Elevated cholesterol doesn’t appear to affect all species in the same way, and has actually been linked to better body conditions in some animals, so Townsend didn’t have reservations about leaving behind burgers for the nestlings. The burger-fed crows had higher cholesterol than nearby rural crows that weren’t given fast food. Those that ate the burgers had cholesterol levels more similar to crows living in cities, being about 5 per cent higher than their burger-deficient neighbours. Townsend says these results are consistent with the handful of other studies on cholesterol in animals that live in near humans, including foxes, sparrows and even sea turtles living near more densely populated Canary Islands. “All of these species tend to have higher cholesterol levels in places where they interact with people,” says Townsend. Previous research has shown that places with higher human population density also have a higher proportion of processed food waste.
7-19-19 The bird that moves like Jagger
A cockatoo whose dance moves went viral more than a decade ago appears to be even more talented than scientists first thought. Snowball, who lives at a bird sanctuary in South Carolina, gained fame in 2007 after he was recorded head-bopping to the Backstreet Boys. Neuroscientists declared that he and his parrot relatives were the first nonhuman animals able to keep a beat to music. Now those same researchers have determined that Snowball not only has impressive rhythm, he also comes up with his own dance moves. That’s unique among animals, which typically only perform unnatural movements in order to get a reward or avoid a punishment from humans. To test his creativity, they played Snowball two songs—Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” and Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”—three times and filmed his reaction. They found that he was coming up with distinctive dance moves—14 in total, from a “body roll” to “head-foot syncs.” The researchers are now trying to understand Snowball’s motivations, reports The Washington Post, examining how he grooves when his owner is in the same room and when she dances with him. “We want to see if this matters in terms of how much he moves and how he moves,” says lead author Aniruddh Patel, from Tufts University. “This social context, does it play a role in his behavior?”
7-8-19 Watch Snowball the cockatoo show off the 14 dance moves he's invented
The idea that we humans have lots of unique abilities that animals lack has taken a battering in recent years – and now coming up with complex dance moves can be removed from the rapidly shrinking list. The cockatoo called Snowball has invented 14 different movements and even combines some of them. Aniruddh Patel of Tufts University first investigated the talents of internet dance sensation Snowball back in 2009. By changing tempos, his team showed he really can dance in time to music. After that study, Snowball’s owner Irena Schulz noticed Snowball was coming up with new dance movements. So the team filmed Snowball dancing to the 80s hits “Another one bites the dust” and “Girls just want to have fun”, and analysed his movements. The team’s compilation video shows Snowball can do far more than just bob his head. His dance repertoire includes body rolls and foot lifts, and even foot lifts combined with head bangs. (The compilation video has “Girls just want to have fun” as an added soundtrack rather than the music Snowball was actually grooving to at the time.) The study shows that parrots can move to music using a wide variety of movements and body parts just like (some) people. Sulphur-crested cockatoos like Snowball are particularly smart birds. They are capable of making tools and even picking locks. Now it seems their talents include dancing as well. No animals are known to dance in response to a musical beat in the wild, though many birds sing as they perform complex courtship dances. Not even the drumming of male wild palm cockatoos gets the females dancing. “What’s different about Snowball is that he is dancing to sounds he’s not making,” says Patel. “Also, unlike birds who vocalise and dance in the wild, he’s not doing it to get a mating opportunity.”
5-20-19 Bad moods could be contagious among ravens
The birds seem to pick up on and share negative emotions, but not positive ones. Here’s a downer: Pessimism seems contagious among ravens. But positivity? Not so much. When ravens saw fellow birds’ responses to a disliked food, but not the food itself, their interest in their own food options waned, researchers report May 20 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study suggests that the birds pick up on and even share negative emotions, the researchers say. Ravens are “very good problem solvers … but this paper’s really highlighting their social intelligence as well,” says Andrew Gallup, a psychologist at SUNY Polytechnic Institute in Utica, N.Y., who was not involved in the study. The work paints a richer picture of how the birds’ brains work, he says. Known for their smarts, ravens act in ways that suggest a capacity for empathy, such as by appearing to console a distressed comrade. Thomas Bugnyar, a cognitive ethologist at the University of Vienna, and his colleagues wanted to look into one building block of empathy — whether animals share emotions. To be able to feel for others, an animal needs to be able to feel like others, he says. But sizing up an animal’s mood is tricky. Scientists generally rely on behavioral or physiological cues to clue into a creature’s emotional state. More challenging is assessing how one animal’s mood might influence another’s: Similar actions appearing to stem from kindred emotions may just be mimicry. To tune into the moods of ravens, the researchers set up experiments to watch whether the birds reacted positively or negatively to a neutral stimulus. This so-called cognitive bias test, used on a wide variety of animals from bees to pigs, “is basically … asking how you would judge a glass — if it’s half full or half empty,” Bugnyar says.
2-7-19 Crows can solve a tricky puzzle box by planning ahead and using tools
New Caledonian crows are really smart. They are known for their toolmaking abilities, such as bending sticks into hooks to skewer grubs for dinner or to carry objects. Now we’ve seen they have impressive planning skills too. Romana Gruber at the University of Auckland in Australia and her colleagues set up a series of compartments that held different sized sticks or stones, which had to be retrieved in a certain order to ultimately get to a piece of meat. Each apparatus was separated from the others with a wooden divider, so the crows could only see one at a time. The team let the crows learn where the different compartments were before putting them to the test in three slightly different setups. For example, in one test, they had to take a stick from one compartment and use it to pull a stone from a tube, and then take that stone to a platform where it would release food. During the test, the crows had to ignore a compartment that held a second stick, which was designed to distract them from getting the stone. The team had 11 wild New Caledonian crows take this test – after 20 trials, four crows were successful 80 per cent of the time, and the rest of the birds took 40 trials or more to reach that success rate. When the team swapped the tools, putting the stone as the first step, it took all the crows more than 40 trials to get the sequence right. This may be because tool use takes up cognitive power, Gruber says, and while crows naturally use sticks as tools, they don’t do the same with stones.
1-9-19 Crows can guess the weight of an object by watching it sway in wind
It’s obvious to us that objects moved by a gentle breeze must be light, and those that don’t move are heavy, but can animals make this deduction? In the case of New Caledonian crows, the answer appears to be yes. “As humans, we have a very full understanding of what weight means across a variety of contexts,” says Sarah Jelbert, who led the study at the University of Cambridge, UK. “We don’t know if animals have these broad conceptions about the concept of weight in the same way that humans do.” Jelbert and her colleagues first trained 12 crows to discriminate between light and heavy objects. Six birds were rewarded when they dropped light objects into a food dispenser, and six were rewarded for choosing heavy objects. During this initial training, the birds were able to touch and pick up the objects. Then pairs of unfamiliar objects – one light and one heavy – were suspended from strings in front of an electric fan before the birds could interact with them. After seeing how they moved in front of the fan, the birds touched the correct object first, according to the rule they learned earlier, in 73 per cent of tests. If the test was done with the fan switched off, the birds did no better than chance. New Caledonian crows are famously fast learners with particularly impressive tool-making skills. In the wild, they often drop nuts on the ground to crack them open. The weight of a nut can indicate whether it’s good to eat, or rotten, so being able to infer weight by observation could be useful to them while foraging, says Jelbert.
12-6-18 Parrots are clever because their brains evolved the same way as ours
Parrots are intelligent birds capable of complex cognition, and it turns out that the genes that play a role in their brain development are similar to those that evolved to give humans large brains. “It’s a surprise in the sense that these animals are so different from humans, but it’s also satisfying in that you might predict that since they evolved similar traits, they have some similar mechanisms,” says Claudio Mello at the Oregon Health & Science University. Parrots can produce complex vocalisations and they’re highly social, a lot like humans. To learn more how these birds’ brains develop, Mello and his team compared the genome of the blue-fronted Amazon parrot with that of 30 other birds. They found that regions of the parrot genome that regulate when and how genes for brain development are turned on are the same as those found in humans. These so-called ultra-conserved elements evolved in both species at different times, but with similar results. “These define how the brain grows and how many cells are built,” Mello says. “Humans ended up with bigger brains and more brain cells and more cognitive traits – including language – than primates. Parrots have bigger brains than other birds and more communication skills, and they have similar conserved elements that set them apart.” Mello says that when these regulatory regions of the genome are disrupted in humans, they are known to be associated with cognitive disabilities such as autism, developmental delays and language deficits. The team also found 344 genes associated with parrot lifespan. Parrots live far longer than would be expected based on their body size and metabolism, some even lasting into their 80s. The genes Mello and his team found that are associated with parrot lifespan support DNA damage repair, slow down cell death due to stress, and limit cell overgrowth and cancers.
11-9-18 Crows show off a new trick
New Caledonian crows, whose problem-solving skills have long set them apart from other avians, can even assemble tools out of available parts, a new study has found. Native to the South Pacific island after which they are named, the birds became famous for their cognitive abilities in 2002, when a captive crow gained access to a treat by creating a hook from a wire. In the new study, eight crows were presented with an assortment of different-length cylinders. Individually, these sticks were too small to reach food that had been hidden in a box. But four of the birds realized within five minutes how to put two rods together, creating a pole that let them push the treat out of an opening in the container’s side. One bird even constructed a four-rod pole—the first time an animal has been recorded making a tool with more than two components. “The finding is remarkable because the crows received no assistance or training in making these combinations,” author Auguste von Bayern, from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen, Germany, tells ScienceDaily.com. “They figured it out by themselves.”
10-24-18 Clever crows reveal 'window into the mind'
Clever, tool-using crows have surprised scientists once again with remarkable problem-solving skills. In a task designed to test their tool-making prowess, New Caledonian crows spontaneously put together two short, combinable sticks to make a longer "fishing rod" to reach a piece of food. The findings are published in the journal Scientific Reports. Scientists say the demonstration is a "window into how another animals' minds work". New Caledonian crows are known to spontaneously use tools in the wild. This task, designed by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen, Germany, and the University of Oxford, presented the birds with a novel problem that they needed to make a new tool in order to solve. It involved a "puzzle box" containing food behind a door that left a narrow gap along the bottom. With the food deep inside the box and only short sticks - too short to reach the food - the crows were left to work out what to do. The sticks were designed to be combinable - one was hollow to allow the other to slot inside. And with no demonstration or help, four out of the eight crows inserted one stick into another and used the resulting longer tool to fish for and extract the food from the box. "They have never seen this compound tool, but somehow they can predict its properties," explained one of the lead researchers, Prof Alex Kacelnik. "So they can predict what something that does not yet exist would do if they made it. Then they can make it and they can use it. "That means that the standard idea that animals try everything at random and improve by reinforcement - that's not enough," he added. "The finding is remarkable because the crows received no assistance or training in making these combinations, they figured it out by themselves," added Auguste von Bayern, who designed the study.
8-22-18 Parrots make wise investment decisions to get what they want: walnuts
Macaws and African grey parrots can learn the value of tokens and choose to make investments that will earn them a better snack in the long-run. Tests involving four species of parrot have found that these birds are capable of making complex economic decisions. The study involved 33 individual macaws and African greys who were taught to recognise the value of different tokens that could be exchanged for food rewards. The birds were then pushed to make difficult decisions about whether to accept an immediate reward, or choose to invest in tokens that would guarantee them a better snack later on. The highest reward available was a piece of walnut, while the worst treat on offer was a sunflower seed. The birds were also offered a middle option – a nugget of dry corn. In various tests, the parrots consistently rejected disappointing immediate rewards in favour of choosing a token – but only if the token would get them a better treat later. The team behind the study say this shows that the birds are capable of making deliberate, profit-maximising decisions, and that the birds can perform as well as chimpanzees have done in similar tests.
8-11-18 French theme park deploys crows to collect litter
A theme park in France is set to deploy six "intelligent" crows to pick up rubbish and spruce up the grounds. The birds at the Puy du Fou theme park in the west of the country have been taught to collect cigarette ends and other small bits of rubbish. They then deposit the litter into a small box which will deliver some bird food as a reward for their hard work. The first crow cleaners have already been put to work, with the rest set to join them on Monday. Nicolas de Villiers, the head of the park, told AFP news agency that it was not just about keeping the area clean. "The goal is not just to clear up, because the visitors are generally careful to keep things clean". It was also about showing "that nature itself can teach us to take care of the environment". He added that the rooks, which are a member of the crow family that also includes ravens and jackdaws, are "particularly intelligent" and "like to communicate with humans and establish a relationship through play". This is not the first time crows have displayed their intelligence. Earlier this year, scientists created a vending machine that showed the bird's ability to solve problems. The machine required a particular size of paper token to release a treat. Scientists found that the crows could remember the right size of paper, and they even trimmed bigger pieces until they could fit into the machine.
6-29-18 Crow vending machine skills 'redefine intelligence'
A small South Pacific island is home to a crow with remarkable abilities that have scientists hooked. New Caledonian crows make and use tools - including a kind of fishing hook. They can solve complex problems and have even been recorded capturing grubs by repeatedly poking them with a stick until they are so agitated, they bite. Now, an experiment using a vending machine specifically designed for crows has revealed something about how intelligence evolves. The "vending experiment" is the latest in an ongoing investigation into these birds' abilities. They are so remarkable that scientists have a special aviary in New Caledonia, where they can keep wild birds for only a few days and test their problem-solving prowess, before releasing them back into the forest. It is actually a cleverly-designed intelligence test. Dr Sarah Jelbert, from University of Cambridge, who developed it, explained that to delve into the birds' cognitive abilities she had to see them learning something new. So the idea was to create a task unlike anything crows would find in nature. "They'd obviously never find paper or card in the wild," said Dr Jelbert, "so we developed this vending machine that that they could drop small pieces of paper into to release a treat - a little piece of meat." First the birds have to be "convinced" to operate this box-shaped machine. "We place stones or bits of paper on top of the box with meat hidden underneath," Dr Jelbert explained. "The birds will often nudge the stone or paper into the hole, or slot - that triggers a reward from the vending machine." Once the birds had learned how the machine worked, the team gave them a piece of paper too big to fit into the slot - to see if they would snip that into smaller pieces that would fit. "About half of them did that spontaneously," said Dr Jelbert. So far, so good. But this is where the test becomes complicated - and revealing. For their study, which was published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports, the scientists really wanted to know whether the birds could make the right size "paper token" from memory. This, Dr Jelbert says, had the potential to be the snapshot she wanted that explained how wild birds learned to make complex, crafted tools - like those hooks they make to fish for grubs. This, she explained, was an investigation into how these birds might be developing "their own tool-making culture". So, the researchers provided each of eight crows with a vending machine that would release a treat only when a particular size of paper was inserted. "Then," explained Dr Jelbert, "we tested whether they could remember which size worked, and whether they would make it themselves." The birds had no template - they just had to remember the size of paper token their particular vending machine required. Dr Jelbert added: "And we found that all the adult birds spontaneously made the right sized piece of card for their vending machine."
6-28-18 Crows make the right tool by remembering the last one they saw
New Caledonian crows made bespoke food vouchers from memory with their beaks and claws, ripping pieces of card into exactly the right size to get a reward. New Caledonian crows can remember what a tool looks like and then make a new one just from memory. The skill to make a mental image of something and then recreate it in this way is something usually only seen in humans. These crows are known to make a wide range of tools, including hooked and barbed sticks. But, until now, it wasn’t clear how certain tool designs were passed through generations, as the crows did not seem to just imitate other crows. Sarah Jelbert of the University of Cambridge, UK, and her team wanted to see if the crows were able to remember effective tool designs and recreate them. The team trained eight wild crows by initially offering them a choice between two small and two larger pre-fabricated cardboard vouchers. The cardboard vouchers released a reward – some meat – when they slid it with their beaks into the slot of a dispenser. Half the birds were taught that the larger vouchers earned the rewards, and half learned that the smaller vouchers worked. When Jelbert offered the birds an oversized card that wouldn’t fit through the slot, the birds gripped it with their claws and ripped it into shape with their beaks to the size that had most recently worked for them—either the smaller vouchers or the slightly larger ones. “The only way they could do this was by memorising what the ideal shape should be,” says Jelbert. Rather than copying how other crows make tools, they learned by focusing on the tool itself. They recognised its usefulness, remembered what it looked like and worked out how to make it anew. This might explain how the tools become increasingly complex over time as crows hold a mental image of the right tool and then make slight changes, which are then picked up by future generations. “They are performing a new behaviour,” she says. “They’ve transferred experience of what works for them into a combination of memory and manufacturing ability.” “This work is a remarkable step towards confirming that these birds exhibit a kind of cumulative cultural evolution that has rarely if ever been demonstrated in non-human animals,” says Stephen Nowicki of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. (Webmaster's comment: If they had hands they'd be giving us a run for our money!)
5-30-18 Pigeons can understand probabilities – just like primates can
We know that humans and some other primates can instinctively distinguish between high and low probabilities – now pigeons have shown they might share the skill. Pigeons seem to have an innate ability to compute probabilities – the first non-primate shown to do so. The skill could help the birds forage for food and avoid predators, suggesting that there are good evolutionary reasons why pigeons might instinctively understand percentages. Even as 12-month-old infants, humans instantly recognise the difference between two toy jars if one contains a high ratio and one a low ratio of preferred to non-preferred toys. Non-human apes and even some monkeys seem to have this instant and innate ability with probability too – prompting researchers to wonder whether other animals do. William Roberts and his colleagues at Western University in London, Ontario, Canada decided to find out using pigeons – birds with a surprising flair for numbers. They placed eight pigeons individually in a cage with access to two keys. Periodically one of the two keys lit up – by pecking it, the pigeon had a chance of receiving a food reward. Each key lit up a total of 24 times, but one key had a far greater probability of yielding a reward: it did so 18 times (75 per cent chance of reward), while the second key did so just six times (25 per cent chance). Every so often both keys lit up at the same time and the pigeons had to choose which one to peck. As soon as the pigeons were familiar with the setup they showed a strong preference to pick the “75 per cent” key when given this choice – they did so more than 85 per cent of the time.
5-24-18 A talking, tech-savvy pet parrot
A talking, tech-savvy pet parrot in Florida has learned how to operate Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant and is using the device to torment its owners. Videos show the four-year-old African grey, named Petra, mimicking its owner’s voice and telling the smart speaker to adjust the lighting in the house—sometimes in the middle of the night. “All day, every day,” her owner says, “it’s all lights on, all lights off.” African grey parrots are extremely verbal and clever; Petra knows about 300 words, and seems to enjoy getting a response from the voice assistant. She also sometimes tells the family dog, “Dance! Woo!”
1-22-18 New Caledonian crows show how technology evolves
Tool-making crows have allowed us to see the first foundations of a technological breakthrough. New Caledonian crows spontaneously make hooks out of plant material, using them to "fish" for grubs and spiders. Experiments have now revealed that these hooked tools are 10 times faster at retrieving a snack than the alternative tool - a simple twig. Measuring the hooks' effectiveness tells scientists something about what drove this tool-use to evolve. Beyond that, the scientists say the insight has provided them a first glimpse of the "evolution of a new technology" in the animal kingdom. The findings are published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution. These crows are the only animals known to make hooks. The earliest human-made fishing hooks - from about 23,000 years ago - were one of the most significant technological milestones. The archaeologists, who unearthed these seashell-carved hooks in a cave on the Japanese island of Okinawa, said this early "maritime technology" had allowed humans to survive on islands. Lead researcher on the crows study, Prof Christian Rutz, told BBC News: "[Our invention of fish hooks] was incredibly recent - only 1,000 generations ago, which is an eye-blink in evolutionary terms. "When you think that we went in that 1,000 generations from crafting fish hooks to building space shuttles - that's absolutely mind-boggling." Understanding what drove the crows' tool-manufacturing provides Prof Rutz and his colleagues with a unique and valuable "non-human model" to investigate the origins of this fundamental step in human progress. "When I see these crows making hooked tools, I have a glimpse of the very foundations of a technology that is evolving," Prof Rutz said. Juan Lapuente, an ecologist from Wurzburg University in Germany, who studies primate tool-use, said the tool-making and tool-using behaviour in crows was "amazing".He added: "We tend to assume that the closer an animal is to us, the more intelligent it should be and thus we understand more easily that primates and especially the chimpanzees make and use tools. "But we have to be more humble and accept that many 'small-brained' animals are intelligent enough to make and use tools and sometimes are even more proficient at this task than our cousins." Prof Rutz said that while he could only speculate about the future development of crow-made tools, he did not think making these hooks was "the end of the story" for the birds. "I think this species will come up with even better tools," he said. (Webmaster's comment: In 1,000 years or less when humans go extinct I expect birds will begin to dominate the planet. Hopefully they'll do a better job of it.)
1-5-18 Arsonist falcons suggest birds discovered fire before humans did
Multiple eyewitness accounts describe Australian birds of prey deliberately setting wildfires by carrying burning sticks, in order to flush out prey. Some birds of prey have learned to control fire, a skill previously thought to be unique to humans. The birds appear to deliberately spread wildfires in order to flush out prey. The finding suggests that birds may have beaten us to the use of fire. There are many anecdotes about Australian birds of prey using fire, according to ornithologist Bob Gosford at the Central Land Council in Alice Springs, Northern Territory. Most come from Aboriginal rangers who manage natural fires in the north Australian tropical savannah, which straddles Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia. The three species mentioned are black kites (Milvus migrans), whistling kites (Haliastur sphenurus) and brown falcons (Falco berigora). The claim is that the birds pick up burning twigs from existing fires and drop them elsewhere to start new blazes. This would flush out prey hidden in the brush. In effect, the birds are using the burning twigs as tools. At least, that’s the idea. In 2016, Gosford’s claims got worldwide press coverage, but biologists reacted sceptically to the idea of birds deliberately starting fires. Now Gosford and his colleagues have gathered 20 new eyewitness accounts of birds starting fires on purpose. The most dramatic evidence comes from Dick Eussen, a photojournalist and former firefighter who is a co-author on the paper. He recounts fighting and controlling a blaze at the Ranger Uranium Mine near Kakadu, Northern Territory, in the 1980s, only to discover a new one on the other side of the road. As he tried to extinguish that fire, he noticed a whistling kite 20 metres away. The bird was carrying a smoking stick, which it dropped, creating another spot conflagration. In all, Eussen extinguished seven new blazes started by the kites. Similarly, in September 2012, Eussen passed a roadside fire in Cape York Peninsula, Queensland. He spotted a black kite starting a fire on the other side of the road by dropping a flaming stick.
12-20-17 After crows fight they touch and preen each other to make up
Carrion crows sometimes have violent squabbles over food, but afterwards the aggressor will often sit by the victim as if to console them and reconcile. Crows may sound unpleasant and represent a living symbol of death, but it seems a murder of crows has a soft side – even when it is made up of relative strangers. Crows belong to a group of birds called corvids, known for their intelligence. They are loyal birds, forming long-lasting social relationships with specific individuals. To find out how they form new relationships, Miriam Sima at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany, and her coauthors studied crows that were unfamiliar to each other. They wanted to see how the crows would react to scuffles amongst relative strangers. The team kept carrion crows, native to Europe and Asia, in a cage. When they put food into the cage, they noticed the birds fought more when the food was limited than when it was abundant. The food shortage caused tempers to flare up – in some cases worse than others. When the crows were only mildly aggressive to another, the aggressor would often seek the victim out after the food was gone. It would then sit close by, touching and even preening the victim’s feathers. However, if the violence was a little more severe, the perpetrators kept a wide berth, and the victims often sought out consolation from a crow that had not been involved in the squabble. The study is the first to show that corvids engage in flexible reconciliation and third-party consolation. Other animals, including some with a bad reputation like hyenas, have been known to kiss and make up after spats. Sima says the findings support the idea that social animals only seek reconciliation if important relationships have been disrupted.
7-20-17 Parrot witness case: Michigan woman guilty of husband's murder
Parrot witness case: Michigan woman guilty of husband's murder
A woman has been found guilty of shooting her husband five times in a Michigan murder case apparently witnessed by a parrot. Glenna Duram shot her husband, Martin, in front of the couple's pet in 2015, before turning the gun on herself in a failed suicide attempt. The parrot later repeated the words "Don't shoot!" in the victim's voice, according to Mr Duram's ex-wife. The parrot, an African Grey named Bud, was not used in the court proceedings. The jury found Mrs Duram, 49, guilty of first-degree murder following a day of deliberations. She will be sentenced next month. She suffered a head wound in the incident in the couple's Sand Lake home in May 2015, but survived. Mr Duram's mother Lillian said it "hurt" to witness Mrs Duram "emotionless" in court as evidence was presented in the case of her son's death, local media report. "It just isn't good; just isn't good. Two years is a long time to wait for justice," she said. Mr Duram's ex-wife Christina Keller, who now owns Bud, earlier said she believed the parrot was repeating a conversation from the night of the murder, which she said ended with the phrase "don't shoot!", with an expletive added. Mr Duram's parents agreed it was possible that the foul-mouthed bird had overheard the couple arguing and was repeating their final words. "I personally think he was there, and he remembers it and he was saying it", Mr Duram's father told local media at the time. (Webmaster's comment: To parrot means to mimic, and that's why parrots are called parrots. There is no good reason not to use this "recording" at a trial.)
7-14-17 What a crow knows
What a crow knows
Crows are incredibly clever birds, capable of using tools and recognizing faces, says writer James Ross Gardner. Researchers have even found that crows mourn their dead and hold ‘funerals.’ Swift, a Ph.D. candidate, is a member of UW’s nationally acclaimed Avian Conservation Lab. If you’ve heard or read a news story in the past decade about Corvus brachyrhynchos—aka the American crow—and what science has to say about its confounding habits and aptitude, there’s a good chance it was thanks to the work conducted by the lab, which is led by a man named John Marzluff. The UW professor and wildlife biologist is the author of numerous popular books on the subject. In 2008, Marzluff and his fellow researchers made national headlines when they tested a hypothesis—that crows recognize individual human faces—by donning Dick Cheney masks. That led to another revelation: Crows teach other crows to detest specific people (and sometimes attack them). This, according to Swift, is what it’s like to attend a crow funeral—an instinctive ritual that evolved generations ago and was just discovered by humans; Swift co-authored an article on her findings in the journal Animal Behaviour in 2015. The gist: Upon spotting one of its dead, the flock attends to the fallen bird en masse with loud shrieking. Given enough time, the throng will mob any predator it thinks is responsible, like, say, a human in a Dick Cheney mask, or in a mask like the one Swift had in her bag. (The lab affectionately refers to that be-soul-patched fellow as Joe.) (Webmaster's comment: The entire article is very much worth reading.)
7-13-17 Ravens pass tests of planning ahead in unnatural tasks
Ravens pass tests of planning ahead in unnatural tasks
Challenges not found in nature strengthen case that certain birds evolved some apelike thinking. Ravens may have a birdlike version of the power to plan ahead — as apes do. Ravens have passed what may be their toughest tests yet of powers that, at least on a good day, let people and other apes plan ahead. Lab-dwelling common ravens (Corvus corax) in Sweden at least matched the performance of nonhuman apes and young children in peculiar tests of advanced planning ability. The birds faced such challenges as selecting a rock useless at the moment but likely to be useful for working a puzzle box and getting food later. Ravens also reached apelike levels of self-control, picking a tool instead of a ho-hum treat when the tool would eventually allow them to get a fabulous bit of kibble 17 hours later, Mathias Osvath and Can Kabadayi of Lund University in Sweden report in the July 14 Science. (Webmaster's comment: Let's turn this around. Birds are much more ancient than apes. Apes may have a apelike version of the power to plan ahead — as Ravens do and probably have done for ten's of millions of years.)
7-13-17 Ravens can plan for future as well as 4-year-old children can
Ravens can plan for future as well as 4-year-old children can
The smart birds seem to have evolved this flexible cognitive ability independently from hominids as the two lineages diverged about 320 million years ago. Ravens can plan for future events at least as well as 4-year-old humans and some adult, non-human great apes. The birds did this in tasks they wouldn’t encounter in the wild, so it isn’t an adaptation to an ecological niche, but rather a flexible cognitive ability that evolved independently in birds and hominids, whose lineages diverged about 320 million years ago. Planning for future events requires the use of long-term memory for some anticipated future gain. For a long time, it was thought to be a uniquely human trait. Children begin showing such abilities when they are about 4. But it turned out that chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans have this ability too, making tools to use later on. In 2007, researchers at the University of Cambridge showed that scrub jays can cache food in places where they anticipate being hungry the next morning. While the behaviour is flexible and requires planning, some argued that it might be an adaptation specific to caching food, which scrub jays and other members of the crow family do habitually, says Mathias Osvath of Lund University, Sweden.
6-30-17 Magpies recruited to safeguard vineyards
Magpies recruited to safeguard vineyards
A simple perch attracts magpies to vineyards, and their presence deters starlings and thrushes from munching on the fruit. Bring in the big guns. Magpies are being lured in to help ward off smaller birds that feast on grapes. Fruit-eating birds like starlings, rosellas and thrushes cause substantial damage to Australian vineyards, in some cases munching through 80 per cent of the fruit. Farmers try to deter them using balloons that look like predatory birds, gas cannons that let off loud booms, and reflective tape that flutters in the wind. However, the birds soon wise up to these tricks and ignore them. Another strategy is to cover the vines with netting, but this is labour-intensive, expensive and makes the grapes harder to spray. Now, Rebecca Peisley at Charles Sturt University in Australia and her colleagues have come up with a cheap, easy, environmentally friendly alternative that halves bird damage to grapes. In each of six vineyards in Victoria, they installed two wooden perches, each designed to attract large, aggressive birds like magpies and predatory birds like falcons – both of which can scare off small grape-eating birds. In practice, the 5-metre-high perches failed to attract predatory birds, but they did prove popular with magpies. Cameras attached to the platforms recorded almost 40,000 magpie visits to the 12 perches over four months. Fewer grape-eating birds hung out near the perches during this period. Sections of the vineyard without perches experienced damage to 9 per cent of the grapes on average, compared with just 4 per cent in sections with perches. (Webmaster's comment: A smart solution isn’t necessarily a high-tech one.)
6-28-17 Canuck the crow's attacks halt Vancouver mail delivery
Canuck the crow's attacks halt Vancouver mail delivery
Postal deliveries have been suspended in part of a Canadian city after a well-known crow called Canuck attacked a mailman. Canada Post said it would not resume deliveries at several addresses in East Vancouver "until such time as the hazard no longer exists". Canuck is said to have drawn blood after biting a letter carrier. The bird is known for riding the city's SkyTrain and stealing shiny objects, including a knife from a crime scene. Canuck was already known to Vancouver police after stealing a button from a computer in a patrol car. In March he was reported stealing horseshoe nails from Vancouver's Hastings Park Race Track. Canada Post spokeswoman Darcia Kmet told the BBC: "Unfortunately, our employees have been attacked and injured by a crow in that Vancouver neighbourhood while attempting to deliver the mail. "Regular mail delivery was suspended to three homes due to it being unsafe for our employees. "We are monitoring the situation when delivering the mail to other residents on the street. If our employees believe it is safe to deliver to those three addresses, they do so."
6-28-17 Male cockatoos have the beat
Male cockatoos have the beat
New study suggests that birds’ drum grooves are analogous to human music. A male cockatoo woos a female with vocal calls, blushing red cheek feathers, head crest erection and rhythmic drum performances in trees, using a self-fashioned drumstick. Like 1980s hair bands, male cockatoos woo females with flamboyant tresses and killer drum solos. Male palm cockatoos (Probosciger aterrimus) in northern Australia refashion sticks and seedpods into tools that the animals use to bang against trees as part of an elaborate visual and auditory display designed to seduce females. These beats aren’t random, but truly rhythmic, researchers report online June 28 in Science Advances. Aside from humans, the birds are the only known animals to craft drumsticks and rock out. “Palm cockatoos seem to have their own internalized notion of a regular beat, and that has become an important part of the display from males to females,” says Robert Heinsohn, an evolutionary biologist at the Australian National University in Canberra. In addition to drumming, mating displays entail fluffed up head crests, blushing red cheek feathers and vocalizations. A female mates only every two years, so the male engages in such grand gestures to convince her to put her eggs in his hollow tree nest.
6-28-17 Birds play sick jungle beat with drumsticks they make themselves
Birds play sick jungle beat with drumsticks they make themselves
In behaviour extraordinarily like ours, male palm cockatoos have been filmed making drumsticks and playing regular rhythms on hollow trees, to attract females. Move over Ringo Starr. Male palm cockatoos have got rhythm too – and they also use their drumming skills to impress the ladies. The males have been filmed making drumsticks in the rainforests of northern Australia, and then drumming to a regular beat. The rhythmic drumming was first described in 1984, but this is the first detailed study of it. Palm cockatoos are the only species other than us known to make a musical tool or instrument, perform with that instrument and repeat musical patterns throughout the performance, says Robert Heinsohn at the Australian National University in Canberra. Over a seven-year period, Heinsohn and his colleagues have filmed and analysed more than 60 cockatoo drumming events in Queensland’s Kutini-Payamu National Park. The drumming is part of a complex display that males put on for any watching females. Sometimes the males drum with a large seed pod. On other occasions, they snap off a small branch, trim it down to about 20 centimetres and bring it to the nests they make in tree hollows.
4-6-17 The US parrot which mimics other animals
The US parrot which mimics other animals
Watch as Einstein, an African grey parrot, mimics a dog's bark, a wolf’s cry and more. Einstein is kept at a zoo in Knoxville, Tennessee, and recently turned 30 years old. On average, African grey parrots live up to 45 years in captivity and 22.7 years in the wild. They are known for their mimicry and their brains have been compared to three-year-old children.
3-29-17 Inside knowledge: What’s really going on in the minds of animals
Inside knowledge: What’s really going on in the minds of animals
Bright animals from chimps to crows know what they know and what others are thinking. But when it comes to abstract knowledge, the picture is more mixed. WORKERS at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi, Kenya, claim that elephants know they will be looked after at its rescue centre, even if the animals have never been there. Elephants that have had no contact with the centre, but know others who have, often turn up with injuries that need attention. That suggests not only abstract knowledge, but relatively sophisticated communication of that knowledge. Either that, or wishful thinking on our part. The extent to which non-human animals “know” things is difficult to assess. The attribute known as “theory of mind” – the ability to know what others are aware of – has been demonstrated, although not always conclusively, in elephants, chimps, parrots, dolphins and ravens, for example. Dolphins are even aware of lacking knowledge. Train a dolphin to answer a question such as “was that a high or low-frequency tone you just heard?” and they give sensible answers, even giving a “don’t know” when the right response isn’t clear. Some primates spontaneously seek further information when posed a question that they can’t answer, suggesting they know both that they don’t know and that they can change that. Things look more mixed when we consider abstract knowledge: the ability we have to understand abstract properties such as weight or force, and squirrel away knowledge gained in one situation to be applied in some future, different context. Great apes instinctively know that, of two identical cups on a seesaw, the lower one is more likely to contain food. “They have a spontaneous preference, from the first time, for the lower cup,” says Christoph Voelter, who researches animal cognition at the University of St Andrews, UK. “They seem to have certain physical knowledge about the world.” New Caledonian crows, on the other hand, don’t have this know-how and make “mistakes” when assessing which stones will exert the most force on a lever to release food. “Crows aren’t using knowledge of force when initially solving the problem,” says Alex Taylor of the University of Auckland, New Zealand – rather, they seem to use trial and error.
3-20-17 Parrots find ‘laughter’ contagious and high-five in mid air
Parrots find ‘laughter’ contagious and high-five in mid air
Chortling parrots join humans, apes and rats in elite club of species that find fun infectious and enjoy a laugh or two together. If your parrot is feeling glum, it might be tweetable. Wild keas spontaneously burst into playful behaviour when exposed to the parrot equivalent of canned laughter – the first birds known to respond to laughter-like sounds. The parrots soared after one another in aerobatic loops, exchanged foot-kicking high fives in mid-air and tossed objects to each other, in what seems to be emotionally contagious behaviour. And when the recording stops, so does the party, and the birds go back to whatever they had been doing. We already knew that these half-metre-tall parrots engage in playful behaviour, especially when young. What’s new is that a special warbling call they make has been shown to trigger behaviour that seems to be an equivalent of spontaneous, contagious laughter in humans. Moreover, it’s not just the young ones that respond, adults of both sexes join in the fun too. (Webmaster's comment: Humor is universal! In college I observed that lab rats are especially humorous and laugh, tease and play all the time.)
11-16-16 Creative cockatoos skilfully make tools from different materials
Creative cockatoos skilfully make tools from different materials
A parrot genius known to make tools has now shown that it does this with a specific purpose in mind, making useful items from twigs, wood and cardboard. It’s toolmaking with intent. Goffin’s cockatoos in the lab use their beaks to carefully cut out a tool from a sheet of cardboard before using it to retrieve an out-of-reach nut. In 2012, a male Goffin’s cockatoo named Figaro proved to be smarter than the average bird: he worked out that he could get to a nut just beyond his reach by tearing a long splinter off a chunk of wood and using it to rake the food. The behaviour – which some other cockatoos also picked up later – seemed to suggest the intentional creation of tools with a specific design for reaching food. But there were some doubters. “There were questions on whether the elongated shape of the tool was intentional,” says Alice Auersperg at the University of Vienna in Austria, who described Figaro’s behaviour in 2012. “He could just have bitten the material out of frustration and ended up with a functional tool due to the age lines of the wood.” In other words, wood naturally tears into the shape of a nut-retrieving tool, making it unclear whether the birds set out deliberately to fashion tools of the right shape for the task, or whether they just stumbled upon one that works well. Auersperg and her colleagues have now performed some follow-up investigations to make a stronger case for cockatoos having a specific intention in their toolmaking.
11-16-16 Cockatoos proven able to create tools
Cockatoos proven able to create tools
Researchers at Oxford and Vienna University have shown that Goffin’s cockatoos can make and use tools out of different materials to reach a reward. (Webmaster's comment: This video shows them doing it.)
10-3-16 The magpie that saved a family
The magpie that saved a family
Sam Bloom fell into a deep depression after a fall from a roof terrace during a family holiday left her paralysed from the chest down. But help was to come from an unexpected source - a magpie chick which had fallen from its nest. When the family took in the bird, it brought joy back to their home and allowed Sam to make a new start.
9-15-16 Tool-using crow: Rare bird joins clever animal elite
Tool-using crow: Rare bird joins clever animal elite
A bird so rare that it is now extinct in the wild has joined a clever animal elite - the Hawaiian crow naturally uses tools to reach food. The bird now joins just one other corvid - the New Caledonian crow - in this exclusive evolutionary niche. Dr Christian Rutz from St Andrews University described his realisation that the bird might be an undiscovered tool user as a "eureka moment". He and his team published their findings in the journal Nature. "I've been studying New Caledonian crows for over 10 years now," Dr Rutz told BBC News. "There are more than 40 species of crows and ravens around the world and many of them are poorly studied. "So I wondered if there were hitherto undiscovered tool users among them." Previously, Dr Rutz and his colleagues have reported that New Caledonian crows have particular physical features - very straight bills and forward-facing eyes. The researchers suggested these might be tool-using adaptations. (Webmaster's comment: And humans killed all but a few off. We killed off the species second most intelligent to us. What a great human achievement!)
9-14-16 Hawaiian crows can use sticks as tools but are nearly extinct
Hawaiian crows can use sticks as tools but are nearly extinct
Like their cousins the New Caledonian crows, island-welling Hawaiian crows seem naturally disposed to using tools for getting food. It’s certainly something to crow about. New Caledonian crows are known for their ingenious use of tools to get at hard-to-reach food. Now it turns out that their Hawaiian cousins are adept tool-users as well. Christian Rutz at the University of St Andrews in the UK has spent 10 years studying the New Caledonian crow and wondered whether any other crow species are disposed to use tools. So he looked for crows that have similar features to the New Caledonian crow – a straight bill and large, mobile eyes that allow it to manipulate tools, much as archaeologists use opposable thumbs as an evolutionary signature for tool use in early humans. “The Hawaiian crow really stood out,” he says. “They look quite similar.”
9-14-16 Hawaiian crows ace tool-user test
Hawaiian crows ace tool-user test
Second corvid species shows knack for deftly groping with sticks to snag food. Hawaiian crows have just joined the short list of birds demonstrated to have a widespread, natural capacity for using tools, such as a stick for probing. A second kind of crow, native to Hawaii, joins the famous New Caledonian crows as proven natural tool-users. Tested in big aviaries, Hawaiian crows (Corvus hawaiiensis) frequently picked up a little stick and deftly worked it around to nudge out hard-to-reach tidbits of meat that researchers had pushed into holes in a log, scientists report September 14 in Nature.
8-10-16 Wild New Caledonian crows possess tool-craft talent
Wild New Caledonian crows possess tool-craft talent
Crows from the Pacific island of New Caledonia show amazing abilities to create tools. Stick tool skills have now been recorded in crows in the wild. Scientists have confirmed that a species of wild crow from New Caledonia in the South Pacific can craft tools. The birds were observed bending twigs into hooks to extract food hidden in wooden logs. Previously this skill had been seen in captive birds kept in laboratories. The study, published in the journal Open Science, suggests that this talent is part of the birds' natural behaviour.
8-10-16 Genius crow's tool-bending behaviour may be natural to its kind
Genius crow's tool-bending behaviour may be natural to its kind
Betty the crow astounded scientists with its ability to bend a piece of garden wire into a neat hook back in 2002. Now it looks like wild crows do it all the time. A crow that astonished the world by bending a straight piece of wire was simply acting out behaviour in her species’ natural repertoire. Betty bent a straight piece of garden wire into a neat hook to lift a food-baited bucket from a vertical tube in a laboratory at the University of Oxford in 2002. At the time, it was known that New Caledonian crows manufacture tools from twigs in the wild, but it seemed highly unlikely that this involved bending. The resulting paper from the experiment suggested that Betty had spontaneously come up with a clever solution after understanding the experimental task. This shook the field of comparative cognition and was regarded as one of the most compelling demonstrations of intelligence in a non-human animal. But recent field experiments by biologists at the University of St Andrews have found that tool bending is part of New Caledonian crows’ natural behaviour. (Webmaster's comment: But still she had to figure out that it could be used to lift the bucket.)
8-9-16 Betty the crow may not have invented her hook-bending tool trick
Betty the crow may not have invented her hook-bending tool trick
Textbook example of ‘spontaneous’ toolmaking challenged by wild bird studies. Betty, heralded as a toolmaking prodigy among New Caledonian crows, may not have been such a whiz bird after all. Her apparently spontaneous wire-bending is getting a closer, skeptical look based on new information about what the birds do in the wild. As a lab resident, Betty astounded researchers more than a decade ago by bending a wire into a hook — with no obvious design cues or known experience — and then using the hook to retrieve a treat from the depths of a tube. Described cautiously in 2002, the report of Betty’s hook became “widely considered one of the most compelling demonstrations of insightful behavior in nonhumans,” says Christian Rutz of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Now, tool tests of wild New Caledonian crows temporarily held in a field aviary raise the possibility that Betty might have had experience with twig bending before coming into the lab, Rutz and colleagues say August 10 in Royal Society Open Science. In the recent tests with 18 wild-caught Corvus moneduloides, 10 birds vigorously bent a pliable stick tool they were making, the researchers report. Betty, who died in 2005, had also been caught in the wild and may have had some experience with bending pliable wood. The observations don’t disprove the claim that she invented wire-bending spontaneously, but do raise an alternative explanation, Rutz says. (Webmaster's comment: So she learned it in the wild. At what age can your child learn it without your help?)
7-28-16 Crows are first animals spotted using tools to carry objects
Crows are first animals spotted using tools to carry objects
Brainy New Caledonian crows have figured out how to carry objects too large to move with their beaks by using a stick. New Caledonian crows have figured out how to move two things in one fell swoop. The adept tool users have been filmed inserting sticks into objects to transport both items at once – a feat that has never been seen in non-humans. Ivo Jacobs of Lund University in Sweden and his team recorded the unique behaviour in a group of captive crows (Corvus moneduloides). They saw how one crafty individual slipped a wooden stick into a metal nut and flew off, carrying away both the tool and the object. A few days later, another crow inserted a thin stick into a hole in a large wooden ball to move the items out of the room. The team observed four other instances of the crows’ clever trick. One of these involved using a stick to transport an object that was too large to be handled by beak. The birds’ novel mode of tool use may be a reflection of their intelligence and exceptionally large brains. Although we already knew crows could use tools, adapting this behaviour to other contexts involving novel objects and purposes shows behavioural flexibility, says Jacobs. “This is typically seen as a hallmark of complex cognitive abilities.” (Webmaster's comment: Like I have said. Next to humans crows are the smartest animals on the planet.)
6-27-16 Parrot squawk 'evidence' in murder trial
Parrot squawk 'evidence' in murder trial
A prosecutor in Michigan is considering whether the squawkings of a foul-mouthed parrot may be used as evidence in a murder trial. Glenna Duram, 48, has been charged with murdering her husband, Martin, in front of the couple's pet in 2015. Relatives of the victim believe that the pet African Grey, named Bud, overheard the couple arguing and has been repeating their final words. The local prosecutor says it's unclear if the bird can be used as evidence. (Webmaster's comment: There is a reason they are called Parrots. To "parrot" is to repeat back mechanically. Parrot was a word before it was used as the name for a bird.)
6-15-16 Not such a bird brain
Not such a bird brain
Who’s a clever birdy? Some birds behave far more intelligently than we would expect from their tiny brains. Now we know why – by densely cramming as many neurons into their brains as some primates. The macaw, for example, has more neurons in its forebrain than a macaque, despite its brain being walnut-sized. (Webmaster's comment: This is why birds are so intelligent! Densely cramming the neurons was evolution's way of putting more intelligence in a small package when more intelligence was needed for survival and breeding success.)
2-2-16 Ravens’ fear of unseen snoopers hints they have theory of mind
Ravens’ fear of unseen snoopers hints they have theory of mind
The cunning birds hide their food more quickly if they think they are being watched, suggesting they can attribute mental states to others. Fears over surveillance seem to figure large in the bird world, too. Ravens hide their food more quickly if they think they are being watched, even when no other bird is in sight. It’s the strongest evidence yet that ravens have a “theory of mind” – that they can attribute mental states such as knowledge to others.
12-23-15 Crows' tool time captured on camera
Crows' tool time captured on camera
Ecologists have used a tail-mounted "crow cam" to catch wild New Caledonian crows in the act of making and using hook-shaped tools. This species is well-known for its clever tool tricks, but studying its behaviour in the wild is difficult. These tiny cameras peer forwards beneath the birds' bellies and record precious, uninhibited footage. As well as glimpsing two crows making special foraging hooks, the team was able to track their activity over time. (Webmaster's comment: A perfect Christmas present for us Intelligent Animal lovers.)
12-23-15 Crow cameras give a bird's eye view of tool-making in the wild
Crow cameras give a bird's eye view of tool-making in the wild
Bird-borne cameras capture footage of New Caledonian crows making and using hooked tools in the wild. Call it a GoCro. Cameras mounted on the tails of wild New Caledonian crows have caught these renowned tool-makers in the act of creating the hooked foraging implements from plants. New Caledonian crows are the only non-human animals to make hooked tools in the wild. Why they do so is something of a mystery. “The answer to that lies most probably in the ecology of the place and the ecology of these birds,” says Christian Rutz at the University of St Andrews, UK. Filming their natural behaviour may help us get to the bottom of it. Back in 2007, Rutz and colleagues equipped crows with video cameras to film their behaviour in the wild. They were able to transmit live pictures, but the range was short, so they had to follow the birds around and the signal would sometimes cut out. Now Rutz and colleagues have followed the behaviour of 10 crows in a new study with a better camera setup. This enabled them to record about an hour of footage for each bird. They found only four of them used tools during the recording sessions. It’s unclear whether some crows don’t use tools at all, or if they just didn’t in the time recorded. “I think that’s a very interesting lead for future research,” says Rutz.
12-16-15 Parrots use pebble tools to grind up own mineral supplements
Parrots use pebble tools to grind up own mineral supplements
For the first time non-human animals have been seen using grinding tools and passing them around in what seem to be an attempt to get calcium out of seashells. Parrots can dance and talk, and now apparently they can use and share grinding tools. They were filmed using pebbles for grinding, thought to be a uniquely human activity – one that allowed our civilisations to extract more nutrition from cereal-based foods. Megan Lambert from the University of York, UK, and her colleagues were studying greater vasa parrots (Coracopsis vasa) in an aviary when they noticed some of the birds scraping shells in their enclosure with pebbles and date pips. “We were surprised,” says Lambert. “Using tools [to grind] seashells is something never seen before in animals.” Afterwards, the birds would lick the powder from the tool. Some of the parrots even passed tools to each other, which is rarely seen in animals.
11-3-15 Crows might meet up for big dinners to exchange cutlery tips
Crows might meet up for big dinners to exchange cutlery tips
New Caledonian crows usually only hang out with close relatives, except when they come across big meals requiring cutlery. New Caledonian crows are adept tool users, sculpting twigs to hook hidden food. To see how this skill might have spread, Christian Rutz at the University of St Andrews in the UK and his team used radio tags to track 42 wild crows. They found that crows normally spent time nearest to close relatives, keeping their distance from other crow families. But that changed when the team left them a log filled with inaccessible beetle larvae that could only be retrieved using tools. Then the segregation broke down and unrelated crows started associating, says Rutz. Modelling showed that coming together in this way might explain how skills like tool use spread between unrelated crows.
10-1-15 The birds that fear death
The birds that fear death
Crows will gather around their dead. And the reasons why are intriguing. Crows are now the latest in the small group of animals that are known to recognise, or perhaps even mourn their dead. Elephants, giraffes, chimpanzees and several other corvid species are also known to loiter near recently deceased mates.
3-17-15 Feathered apes who say thanks with shiny trinkets
Feathered apes who say thanks with shiny trinkets
Recent reports of crows bestowing oddly touching gifts on people who feed them suggest that there is something rather special about these big-brained, beady-eyed birds. It seems the term "bird brain" may not be synonymous with stupidity after all.
3-9-15 Birds that bring gifts and do the gardening
Birds that bring gifts and do the gardening
A recent Magazine story reported how an eight-year-old girl in the US regularly receives gifts from crows - they seem to be thanking her for feeding them. It inspired readers to email us with details of their own remarkable relationships with birds. (Webmaster's comment: We have obviously been in trading relationships with crows for a long time. Clearly the most intelligent species on the planet after humans.)
Crows establish a trading relationship with a human being!
2-25-15 The girl who gets gifts from birds
The girl who gets gifts from birds
Lots of people love the birds in their garden, but it's rare for that affection to be reciprocated. One young girl in Seattle is luckier than most. She feeds the crows in her garden - and they bring her gifts in return. Each morning, they fill the backyard birdbath with fresh water and cover bird-feeder platforms with peanuts. Gabi throws handfuls of dog food into the grass. As they work, crows assemble on the telephone lines, calling loudly to them. The crows would clear the feeder of peanuts, and leave shiny trinkets on the empty tray; an earring, a hinge, a polished rock. There wasn't a pattern. Gifts showed up sporadically - anything shiny and small enough to fit in a crow's mouth.
(Webmaster's comment: The "dumb animals" are reciprocating the human's generosity spontaneously without any incentive or training, but they had to "think" about it first! Crows obviously understand the concept of reciprocity. The Crows have established a trading relationship with a human being! Also notice it's not just shiny objects. Many are objects that the crow might think would be useful to a human being. They are thinking about what they bring! Crows are definitely the most intelligent of non-human animals on Earth.)
1-24-15 Crows may be able to make analogies
Crows may be able to make analogies
Birds pass a lab test for picking out similar relationships. Hooded crows have passed a challenging lab test designed to see whether animals can think in terms of analogies.
10-14-14 Missing US parrot ditches English to switch to Spanish
Missing US parrot ditches English to switch to Spanish
Four years after disappearing, a pet parrot has returned home in Torrance, California, having ditched his British accent and switched to Spanish. (Webmaster's comment: A bilingual parrot! Now that's what I call a brainy bird.)
9-3-14 Cockatoos learn to make and use a tool
Cockatoos learn to make and use a tool
THERE'S no stopping these birds. After a lone Goffin cockatoo figured out how to make and use a simple tool, others have learned the same trick by watching him. It's more evidence that the species is unusually innovative.
9-2-14 Cockatoos teach tool-making tricks
Cockatoos teach tool-making tricks
They may be in a battle with the crow family for the title of most intelligent bird. And Goffin cockatoos have now shown an impressive ability to learn from one another how to use and even how to make tools. A team of researchers has discovered that the birds emulate tool-making tricks when they are demonstrated to them by another bird.
6-30-14 Bird brains: Public asked to look out for clever rooks
Bird brains: Public asked to look out for clever rooks
The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) is asking the public to take part in a national survey of bird intelligence.
1-31-14 A Crafty Tool-Making Cockatoo
A Crafty Tool-Making Cockatoo
A Goffin's cockatoo in Vienna uses tools to fetch nuts beyond reach.
1-9-14 Power line nests put US ravens in pole position for prey
Power line nests put US ravens in pole position for prey
Ravens in the US are building their nests on electricity power lines and using the height to target their prey, according to new research.
8-1-13 Feathered dinosaurs had 'flight-ready' brains
Feathered dinosaurs had 'flight-ready' brains
Several ancient dinosaurs evolved the brainpower needed for flight long before they could take to the skies, scientists say. (Webmaster's comment: Since New Caledonian crows are better tool makers and problem solvers than chimps could this mean some ancient dinosaurs also were tool makers and problem solvers? Since birds evolved from dinosaurs, probably.)
7-4-13 Cockatoos crack lock-picking puzzle
Cockatoos crack lock-picking puzzle
Cockatoos can pick their way through a series of locks to reach a reward, scientists have found.
11-6-12 Cockatoo shows tool-making skills
Cockatoo shows tool-making skills
A captive-bred Goffin's cockatoo has surprised researchers by spontaneously making and using "tools" to reach food.
9-18-12 Crows can 'reason' about causes, a recent study finds
Crows can 'reason' about causes, a recent study finds
Tool-making crows have the ability to "reason", say scientists.
5-11-12 Crows know familiar human voices
Crows know familiar human voices
Crows recognize familiar human voices and the calls of familiar birds from other species, say researchers.
11-2-11 Clever Eurasian jays plan for the future
Clever Eurasian jays plan for the future
Experiments with Eurasian jays have shown that the birds store food that they will want in the future - "planning" for their impending needs.
9-20-11 Crows use mirrors to find food
Crows use mirrors to find food
Clever New Caledonian crows can use mirrors to find food, according to scientists.
1-14-11 Curious crows use tools to explore dangerous objects
Curious crows use tools to explore dangerous objects
New Caledonian crows use tools to investigate unfamiliar and potentially dangerous objects, according to scientists.
10-26-10 Clever New Caledonian crows go to parents' tool school
Clever New Caledonian crows go to parents' tool school
Young New Caledonian crows learn to use tools by going to "tool-school", where they can observe their parents at work.
12-1-09 Clever ravens cooperatively hunt
Clever ravens cooperatively hunt
Brown-necked ravens team up to hunt lizards, revealing an unexpected level of intelligence, say scientists.
8-6-09 Clever rooks repeat ancient fable
Clever rooks repeat ancient fable
One of Aesop's fables may have been based on fact, scientists report.
5-26-09 Rooks reveal remarkable tool use
Rooks reveal remarkable tool use
Rooks have a remarkable aptitude for using tools, scientists have found.
8-19-08 Magpie 'can recognize reflection'
Magpie 'can recognise reflection'
Magpies can recognize themselves in a mirror, scientists have found - the first time self-recognition has been observed in a non-mammal.
10-4-07 Clever crows are caught on camera
Clever crows are caught on camera
Miniature cameras have given scientists a rare glimpse into how New Caledonian crows behave in the wild.
8-16-07 Cleverest crows opt for two tools
Cleverest crows opt for two tools
Crows have shown that two tools are better than one when it comes to problem solving, scientists say.
8-8-02 Crows prove they are no birdbrains
Crows prove they are no birdbrains
Experiments show the humble bird is better than the chimp at toolmaking.
Crows Solving Problems Videos
Ask yourself at what age could your child solve these problems?
(Chimpanzees can not solve these problems, without training they haven't a clue.)
Bird Brain - Discover the Intelligence of Birds
A Murder of Crows - Movie: Birds with an Attitude
Ravens: Intelligence in Flight - Movie: Ingenious and versatile ravens are one of the most intelligent birds.
Inside Animal Minds - Movie: Bird Genius
The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill - Wild parrots with personalities
How Smart Are Animals? - Irene Pepperberg & her parrot Alex
Inside Animal Minds - Article in National Geographic: The New Caledonian Crow solves problems and creates and uses tools - once thought the domain solely of primates. African Gray Parrot: Counted; knew colors, shapes, and sizes; had basic grasp of the abstract concept of zero. Western Scrub Jay: Recalls the past, plans for the future.
Bird Brains - The Intelligence of Crows, Ravens, Magpies, and Jays
Mind of the Raven - Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds
In the Company of Crows and Ravens - Crows and people share similar traits and social strategies
Gifts of the Crow - How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans
The Parrot Who Thought She Was A Dog
Total Page Views
The Intelligence of Crows
Next to Humans the Smartest Animals on the Planet.
Problem Solving Ability of a Crow is Equivalent
to that of 7-Year-Old Human Children.