Practice Makes Perfect for Nest-Building Weavers

October 4, 2011 by  
Filed under Features

It has long been assumed that the nest building skills of birds are instinctive, but new research has revealed that building a nest could very well be a learned skill. Following and filming the activities of male Southern Masked Weavers in Botswana over a period of three months, researchers noted that not all nests are created equal. As the name of the bird suggests, Southern Masked Weavers use a weaving technique when constructing their nests from local grasses. However, the method of nest building varied between birds with some weaving from left to right and others weaving from right to left. It was also noted that they appeared to learn from their mistakes, and while a bird may regularly drop blades of grass when it first starts its nest building process, it soon learns to adjust its technique to prevent this.

The brightly colored African bird was chosen as the test subject for the study for a number of reasons. Their complex nests which hang from trees either as single units or multiple intertwined condominiums are seen as evidence of above average intelligence. Also, a single bird will build several nests in a season, allowing the research team to note the differences in nests built by the same bird.

Working with scientists from Botswana, researchers from the universities of St Andrews, Edinburgh and Glasgow noted that the fact that the Southern Masked Weaver birds displayed marked variations in their approach to nest building reveals that they may learn from experience. At this point, however, it is not clear whether they have the mental capacity to learn, or their improvement in skills can be attributed to repetition of a task. Researchers also pointed out that observing this behavior in one bird species does not imply that it would apply to all birds. One of the scientists taking part in the study, Dr. Patrick Walsh of Edinburgh University’s School of Biological Sciences, noted that if birds built their nests instinctively according to a genetic template, it would follow that all birds would build all their nests in the same way every time, but this has not been the case. Summing it up nicely, Dr. Walsh was reported as saying: “Even for birds, practice makes perfect.”

Pigeons Can Recognize Human Faces

July 5, 2011 by  
Filed under Features

It seems that years of sharing space with humans and being forced to adapt to changes in city lifestyles, has taught pigeons a few tricks that are quite remarkable to say the least. They might seem to most people just ordinary birds, but on taking a closer look pigeons are actually highly intelligent and are able to differentiate between humans, not by the clothes they wear, as they have learnt that clothing changes, but by facial recognition, which is extremely remarkable.

The perception capabilities of pigeons were tested previously in a laboratory, but researchers of the University of Paris Quest Nanterre La Defense decided to take their next experiment into the “wild” so to speak, to see how undomesticated pigeons would react. To ensure that the test would be performed as accurately as possible, two researchers were selected who shared the same build and skin color, but wore laboratory coats of different color. These two researchers then went out into the park to feed the pigeons. The first researcher threw out the food and then stood back ignoring them, giving them the opportunity to eat the food without being disturbed. The second also threw out food, but then chased them away, being hostile towards the pigeons.

For the second session, both researchers were told not to chase the pigeons, and allow them to eat, but the pigeons had remembered who the hostile researcher was and avoided her. They decided to repeat the session a few times over, even getting the researchers to swop their lab coats, but still the pigeons would avoid the researcher who was hostile on their first encounter. This confirmed the suspicions of the team, that the pigeons relied on facial recognition to detect hostiles.

Facial recognition is not a new skill in the bird world, and other researchers have discovered in previous years that birds such as magpies and jackdaws are also able to recognize humans according to their facial features. So next time you think about chasing away a bird, think twice about your actions, as you might not remember which bird you were hostile to, but they are more than likely going to remember you!

Crows Know How

February 2, 2011 by  
Filed under Features

Researchers and scientists have been studying the New Caledonian crow for a number of years now. It has proven to be a bird with extraordinary capabilities, able to solve problems and use tools to gain access to food. This remarkable talent has led to numerous papers being published in regard to the intelligence of the crow. It seems that researchers wanted more and believed that the crows’ problem solving skills could be pushed a little further, and they were right. New tests have shown that crows are able to devise plans and show extreme caution in unfamiliar circumstances.

The first round of research was done to see how crows make use of tools to forage. Researchers gave the crows a three phase puzzle which was solved successfully. They first used a short stick to retrieve a longer stick, which they then had to use to get to their food which was placed in a hole. This test already stunned researchers, but the crows have now shown that they use tools for various other actions as well.

Over and above using sticks to find food, it seems that New Caledonian crows also use sticks to look at objects they deem to be potentially dangerous. Instead of inspecting it closely, they make use of their sticks to take a look around first before approaching something they are unfamiliar with. Dr. Joanna Wimpenny, a research zoologist on the team is very excited about the new findings, saying: “Evidence is building up that they’re able to plan their actions in advance, which is very interesting from a cognition point of view. It isn’t just that they’re responding in a pre-programmed sort of way. It seems possible they may potentially view a problem and know what the answer is.”

To test this, a rubber snake was used in one instance. The crow moved a little closer, but showed signs of being hesitant. He then used a tool to prod the snake a few times and after seeing no movement, he quickly pulled on the tail while jumping backwards. Once he was sure that the rubber snake posed no danger, he approached completely and began pecking on it. These tests and research prove that crows have an intricate thought process. Further behavioral studies are underway to find out more about these fascinating birds and their intelligent problem solving abilities.

Breakthrough in Understanding Bird Intelligence

April 26, 2010 by  
Filed under Features

Humans and primates have always been seen as intelligent due to the ability to solve problems and create tools to assist in various labors. But there is another creature that uses its tool making skills every day: the New Caledonian Crow. Similar in size to the normal House Crow, New Caledonian Crows can be distinguished by their less slender look, and their rich feathers that often shine in shades of dark blue and purple. They are all black in color, with chiseled features, and have very advanced skills that give the phrase “bird-brain” new meaning.

Scientists have been researching New Caledonian Crows and are ready to release their findings in regard to the abilities of this fascinating bird. It has always been known that these crows make use of tools in the wild to obtain food. They create tools from screw pine leaves by using their beaks to cut away the leafy edges to form a narrow strip that they are able to use to scratch in small holes to extract insects. Researchers decided to put the skills of the crows to the test, not by asking them to perform a one step task, but by giving them various options and multi-step tasks to complete. Some birds were able to assess the situation and complete their tasks on their first try, while others were able to figure out the solution to the problem within their first four attempts.

One of the tests given to the crows involved a piece of meat that was placed in a box, but was out of their reach. They were then given a short stick, and a long stick was placed in another box. The crows quickly established that the short stick was too short to retrieve the meat, but long enough to retrieve the longer stick and completed their task, which was rewarded by the tasty treat. Another test gave the crows a straight wire to remove a small bucket from a hole, containing meat. Here, the crows assessed the situation and used their skills to bend the straight wire into a hook to retrieve their food. Zoologist, Professor Alex Kacelnik, from the University of Oxford commented: “These animals learn something interesting, no doubt, and can use its flexibly to generate new behavior, a feat that until a couple of decades ago was thought to be restricted to humans and other apes.” Research has also shown that adults teach their young the skills they know, ensuring that the next generation is also able to solve food related problems. One fact is for certain: humans will never look at crows in the same light again. They have proven to have extraordinary skills and the ability to manufacture tools.

Eclectus Parrot Ownership is Rewarding

October 30, 2009 by  
Filed under Pet Birds

When people look for a pet bird to join their family, most owners want a one that can be affectionate, a great companion and that has the ability to fit into their daily routines. The Eclectus parrot is often overlooked as a pet bird, and owners unknowingly miss out on the opportunity to enjoy a bird that is loving, intelligent and easily manageable, if they know what their basic needs are. This breathtakingly beautiful bird is not demanding at all and is actually one of the best pet parrots on the market today.

The most distinguishing feature of the Eclectus parrot is the fact that they are dimorphic. Dimorphic means that one can distinguish between the males and females just by looking at them. In the case of the Eclectus, it is the vastly different coloring that makes it easy. The male Eclectuses are covered in green plumage with variations of orange, blue and red under their wings. Their beaks are also unusually orange in color. The females are just as attractive as the males, but have bright red plumage covering their heads and neck, with their backs and chest being purple in color and their wings displaying variations of purple and blue underneath. The females have smooth black beaks. Another unique feature is the fact that the Eclectus parrot has hair-like feathers on their heads, back and chest, opposed to the smooth, locked and contoured feathers on their wings and tails.

As pets, owners will find their Eclectus parrot to be extremely gentle and fond of interaction, even though they will never demand it. They are able to integrate into the daily routines of their owners quite easily and will sit quietly while daily duties are being performed. Through enough love and care, Eclectus parrots will be able to learn a large vocabulary and their inquisitiveness makes them quick learners. They are highly intelligent birds and will quickly notice small changes in their environment. The Eclectus species is generally a healthy bird with a life span of approximately fifty years. They have simple dietary needs of fruit and seeds and enjoy changes made in their food, such as grapes one day and maybe apples the next. Owners will not regret adding an Eclectus parrot to their family, as their gentle and friendly natures make them a pet family and friends can enjoy.

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