Crows Know How

February 2, 2011 by  
Filed under Birding Tips

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.

Red-Billed Chough Project in Portugal

September 9, 2009 by  
Filed under Features

The Red-Billed Chough species falls under the crow family. It is easily recognized by its features that include a longish curved beak and red coloring, red legs and pitch-black plumages that glisten in the sun. They are known to mate for life and also remain at their breeding site. Nests can be found on cliff faces and caves. But concern has grown over an area in Portugal where there once was an abundance of Red-Billed Choughs, and nests were an ordinary sight. The surrounding area of Chaos has not recorded a sighting of a Red-Billed Chough in a long time, and steps are being taken to correct the loss of these birds in the area.

The herding of goats in the Chaos countryside was once a very active form of agriculture, but as the agricultural lands began to be abandoned, the vegetation and brush started growing at such a rate that the Red-Billed Choughs could no longer forage underneath the bushes as they used to, and the insects that used to breed in the goat excrement and provide these birds with extra nutrition are also no longer found here since the goats were removed. Efforts are therefore being made to revive the industry of goat herding to enable the Red-Billed Choughs to once again populate the area.

The project has enlisted the assistance of two candidates who herd the newly acquired goats, as well as monitoring the birds, natural herbs and orchids which are found in the area. To raise funds, the project has brought in a tourist angle, allowing visitors to Portugal to be goat herders for a day explore the beautiful landscape and receive a guided tour of the natural wonders and sites in the Chaos countryside. In addition, organic cheese production is a product that potential goat herders can invest in, especially as the project is incorporating tourism into their attempt to save the Red-Billed Chough population. It is hoped that the project will jumpstart the industry of goat herding and in doing so, provide the Red-Billed Chough with a habitat again. These endangered birds can be saved, with dedication from the project, assistance of the community and support from visitors and tourists. Tourists will be able to explore a new world while playing a vital role in saving the Red-Billed Chough in Portugal.

New Caledonian Crows in the Spotlight

October 15, 2007 by  
Filed under Features

New Caledonian crows are well-known for their resourceful use of tools in the wild. They have been observed using their beaks to skillfully shape twigs into bug-grabbing devices in a way that some researchers believe to be so advanced that it rivals the abilities of some primates. In an effort to find out more about these intelligent birds, that are easily disturbed and therefore difficult to observe, scientists have developed an ingenious new technique to witness their behavior in their peaceful, densely forested mountainous habitats.

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Unpopular Owls

December 11, 2006 by  
Filed under Features

Owls suffer a lot of bullying from other birds. Perhaps you’ve heard a mob of noisy blackbirds or chickadees out in the forest – they’re madly scolding something. They swoop and dive down at a shape in the trees. This shape often turns out to be an owl.

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