“Bird brain” not such an insult

By |  August 29, 2002

Researchers have discovered what many pest management professionals already knew: Some birds are really smart. In a recent issue of “Science,” experts share the results of their research, which shows a New Caledonian crow creating tools to get what she wants.

Crows and other members of the corvid family of birds, such as ravens and jays, have long been thought of as clever. They can be some of the most difficult pest birds to control because of their knack for outwitting exclusion and scare tactics.

Betty, a crow at the Behavioral Ecology Research Group laboratory at Oxford University, showed scientists there just how smart corvids can be. Oxford researchers gave Betty and a male crow, Abel, two tools: a straight wire and a hooked wire. The researchers then placed a piece of meat inside a tube to see if the crows would use the best tool — the hooked wire — to retrieve the meat.

As expected, both birds chose the hooked wire to snag the meat. At one point in the experiment, the dominant male took Betty’s hooked wire. Nonplussed, Betty picked up her straight wire, wedged its tip in a crack and bent it to create a hooked wire. Betty then used her newly created hooked wire to get the meet from the tube.

The researchers then gave Betty only straight wires to see if the feat could be repeated. Ninety percent of the time Betty created hooked wires from the straight wires she was given in order to get the meat. Because males often let other birds do the work and then steal the fruits of their labor, the experiment wasn’t performed with Abel.

The researchers say Betty knew what she was doing and was goal driven, not getting lucky. They say the experiment may be the first to show an animal solving a problem on the spot.

This article is tagged with and posted in Crows

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