Meet the bird brains

Meet some bird brains on NOVA, Wednesday, April 9th at 8 pm | KENW

meet the bird brains

Their brains may be tiny, but birds have been known to outsmart children and apes. !participated in my first bird show in October, It was the Suncoast Avian Society's annual show in St. Petersburg, Florida and it was a riot ofbirds. Rifts develop in Will and Sasha's home due to social networking. Elsewhere, Brown searches for a neighbor's lost pet, but he's more interested in netting the.

Her brain is responding instinctively to a simple trigger. Even when the egg is replaced with a cube, she brings it back into the nest.

When the bird continues the motion even after the egg is gone, that implies that the behavior is more or less instinctive. The bird isn't consciously thinking through the consequences of its actions. Even what looks like an incredibly complicated skill, flying, requires very little thought. There are many aspects of flying that are controlled without ever sending signals to the brain. And they're controlled right by feedback from the feathers to the spinal cord and control how the wings are then moved to, to change flight, without thinking about it at all.

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Huge groups of birds can fill the sky with beautiful and coordinated patterns of flight. This spectacle seems like it would require high levels of intelligence, but it's mainly instinctive. So, is everything a bird does ruled by instinct?

Or do they have what we would consider intelligence? Meet Bran, a hand-reared young raven, and his owner, bird trainer Lloyd Buck. Well, this is Bran, and he's a three-year-old raven. We've had him since he was about 10 days old, so he's what you call "complete social imprint" on humans, but he's particularly bonded with me. We share a very, very close bond. To keep Bran busy, Lloyd will sometimes give him a problem to solve. Here's one he tried a few months ago, in Bran's aviary, where there's a birdbath.

A piece of food is trapped inside a plastic bottle that's been crushed. First, Bran adds water. That alone doesn't free the food, so he swishes it around so that liquid carries the food out of the bottle top. Lloyd didn't teach Bran how to solve this problem.

meet the bird brains

He just gave him the challenge and let him figure it out on his own. So, we've presented him with that problem, and through his own intelligence and problem-solving abilities, he worked out to use his own water, what he had around him, to his advantage, which I think shows a lot of intelligence. Ravens like Bran and parrots like Rio belong to two families of birds that are widely considered to be among the smartest species. Ravens are part of the crow family.

Crows live almost everywhere on Earth, with an average lifespan of 10 to 15 years. They have a starring role in many classic myths as cunning animals who bring bad luck. Parrots, on the other hand, have been loved as pets by humans for thousands of years.

They also thrive in many different environments, and they can live to be 80 years old. Their long life span gives them plenty of opportunity to learn new things, and that may be one reason why they seem so smart. At the Haidlhof Research Station, near Vienna, scientists are studying the intelligence of many kinds of crows and parrots.

Translated from German What makes our center unique is the fact that we have multiple bird species here at the same time, and it is very interesting to compare them. They're working with a type of parrot called a kea, from New Zealand. This is John, and he'll be trying a much harder string-pull test. First, peanut butter is hidden in a small tube and tied to the end of a string.

Right away, this is a more complex challenge, because the treat is out of sight, instead of hanging right in front of him. To complicate things further, now there are two strings, but the second one just has a stick on the end.

John goes straight to the correct string where the reward hangs, directly below him. Next, the two strings are crossed. So now, the reward is no longer directly below the attachment to the right string, and John has to decide which string to pull.

When the string is anchored here and the reward is here, and a string is anchored here and the reward is here, the position of the reward is actually opposite to where the bird might expect it to be. So it implies an additional layer of processing. John immediately pulls the right string. Most of the kea parrots who try this puzzle need some practice, but even with the rewards and strings swapped around, they learn to pull the right one most of the time.

If they pull a string that is offset from the food, this really implies that they have a plan. And that's a real key, they're able to plan this out mentally, work out the steps, and employ it correctly when they see the task.

Compared to other birds, parrots and crows have large brains in relation to their body size, and scientists believe that may be one reason why they can work out solutions to problems they don't encounter in the wild.

Most bird brains are small, but they have one critical area in common with humans and other animals with higher intelligence. The executive center of the bird's brain is right here.

And that's the part that really allows them to make plans and strategies and organize ideas to use to, to act upon things that will happen in the future. Birds brains may be tiny, but for their size, they seem to contain more brain cells, or neurons, than many other animals. The number of neurons is, is a better indication of brainpower than the physical size of the brain.

And this is an interesting thing that we've learned recently, that bird brains actually pack a lot more neurons into a particular area than do mammal brains. So, even though they're physically very small in size, they, they have a lot of punch in that size. The intelligence of parrots like kea is also thought to be influenced by where they come from.

In their natural habitat, the highest mountains of New Zealand, food is scarce. Sometimes kea parrots can strip berries from shrubs and bushes; other times they have to search for insects. They only find enough to eat by being adaptable, and that has an impact on their brains.

Anything that, that involves innovation and trying new techniques and having to solve problems within the environment to get food, that all stimulates a greater connection of the neurons in one's brain. So, they're basically building a strong brain by having to explore this complex and variable environment.

Their explorations make kea parrots inquisitive and fearless. And they're fascinating to watch. Because they evolved on New Zealand, where they had few predators, these birds don't seem afraid of anything. Until humans arrived, there was little to threaten them. They could explore whatever they wanted and still do. This is very different from the other super-brains of the bird world. Ravens and the rest of the crow family live alongside big predators.

Like kea parrots, they must find food wherever they can, even if they have to steal it. But wolves and coyotes are dangerous, so crows and ravens have to be cautious. Crows are, are famous for being afraid of new things that they encounter in their environment, and most animals are.

It's a good strategy. It keeps you out of trouble. It pays to be wary, but crows are famously wary. Compared to parrots, ravens and the rest of the crows have a very different approach to solving problems. Auguste von Bayern works with New Caledonian crows, considered to be one of the most intelligent bird species. She's wearing a collar, because she recently lost her mate—crows mate for life—and Wek started pulling out her feathers when her partner died. She's been raised by humans since infancy.

Wek was hand raised, and that's why she has a very close relationship with humans. In all tests she's participated, she was one of the best birds, and yeah, she seems to be clever and enjoys to work in our experiments.

Meet the Bird Brains

This experiment is designed to compare how New Caledonian crows and kea solve problems. Wek represents the crows, and for the kea parrots, this is Kermit. Their challenge is called a "multi-access box. As the name suggests, the bird is presented with a problem, food in the center of a box, so, out of reach. And the special thing is that it can be accessed in four different ways. So, there are four different solutions to get the food out of that box.

The birds can pull the string to get the peanut out through the hole, drop a ball down a chute to dislodge it, prod the nut with a stick or open the door and reach inside.

This is a new approach, because usually animals are just tested with one problem and there's just one way of getting the food.

And it's very interesting to see how species differ in the way they approach a problem and the way they explore that box. The first time both birds see the puzzle they make the same choice, they just pull the string. Then the researchers take that solution away, to see what they'll do next.

Wek uses the stick to poke the nut free, but this isn't a surprise. New Caledonian crows are very special because they're the only crow species that use tools in the wild. They obtain a lot of their diet by using tools. Kea parrots don't use tools in the wild. But Kermit figures out a solution with the ball and chute. Again, the researchers remove the option that's been used. For Wek, the hole for the stick is taped over. Wek has to try something else, so she tries the ball and chute.

With two choices left, Kermit just opens the door, reaches inside and takes the peanut. But Wek won't take this approach. The last thing a crow wants to ever do is stick its head in something. They're extremely vulnerable if they do that, and to stick their head inside that box, it could trap them in it. Wek still opens the door, but rather than put her head inside, she pokes the nut free with the stick.

Kermit's last option is the stick. His curved beak makes it very hard to hold, but he still sees this as a potential solution, even though it's not easy. Both birds found four different solutions to the puzzle, showing they're able to think flexibly. The ability to think flexibly is certainly a hallmark of a cognitively advanced animal.

Meet Bird Brains Just Like You! | Chamberlain | AFA Watchbird

So, rather than having this set response to a stimulus every time, as Lorenz worked upon, now you've got a whole battery of responses that could be put into play, and now it's a mental task to sort among which ones are best for a given situation. A bird's environment can encourage flexible thinking. Like humans, birds seem to learn new things by playing. Translated from German The great thing about keas is that they are very playful and curious.

They are not only interested in new things but are also quite daring. They have a notorious urge to explore everything they see, and they want to play and explore the physical effects and consequences of their actions. Researchers noticed that kea parrots often try to put one object inside another, so they give them a related challenge: The younger birds are fascinated, trying to put the toys into the tubes. There's no food reward, just curiosity.

And they seem to get better at learning which toys fit which tubes. Can they take this new knowledge and apply it in a different situation? A peanut stuck in a tube is a new problem to solve. The younger birds approach it first. This one studies the problem from all angles.

She picks up a block but seems to know that it's too big. She then selects the one block that fits the tube. Only the birds that played with the tubes and toys can solve this on their own.

The ability to learn skills in one context and transfer them to another context is another thing that allows researchers to infer that this is a conscious process going on. That these are not just instinctive behaviors, that they're learning new things and that they're able to transfer this knowledge. This is a similar challenge. The reward is in plain sight, but the tube is too long, and the food can't be reached.

The catch can be released by dropping a stone onto it. To do that, Wek is going to have to figure out how the catch works. The researchers replace the long tube with a shorter one.

Bird Brain

Now Wek can reach the catch, and she quickly learns how to open it with her beak. When the crow experiences the short tube, they can release the food through their normal process, peck on something. That's what crows typically do, is bite or peck or probe with their beaks.

So they learn the relationship: But once she's learned how the catch works, can she figure out how to release it when she can't use her beak? Wek realizes that she can release the catch by dropping the stone on it. And using a stone to get food in this way is not something a crow would normally do in the wild. The fact that the crow is able to take a stone and move the same object that that bird had previously moved with its bill, implies that the crow is thinking ahead and visualizing the action: Using an unfamiliar tool to get food is a demanding mental task, even for New Caledonian crows.

At the Max Planck Institute, in Germany, the researcher sets up a puzzle to see if a crow can understand how to get a reward by pulling on a hook. Two hooks are covered by a plastic sheet. Only one of them contains a small white container with food. This crow seems to get it right away, but was it a lucky guess? Or was she using knowledge that comes from her natural environment? New Caledonian crows are the only species of bird that's been observed to use hook tools in the wild.

They use the stems of Pandanus plants to make, kind of like jigsaw-bladed fishhook sorts of tools. They'll shove that down a hole and a grub will either grab onto it, or they'll actually skewer the grub. They make hooks that turn to the left or to the right. They use them appropriately. What's interesting here is that it seems like they are able to bring this skill that they use in the wild, normally, into a lab setting that's completely unlike the environment that they normally use it in, to a hook that isn't one that they've made themselves, that in fact looks nothing like the hooks they make themselves, but it's still hook-shaped.

And they clearly understand the repercussions of that hook shape. Crows are not only good at solving problems, they're also good at negotiating complex sets of relationships, because they live in large groups. Many scientists believe that forming social relationships within big groups helps drive the intelligence of animals like chimps and dolphins. Can this also be true for birds?

Living in a social group is hard.

meet the bird brains

You have to remember alliances. You have to remember friendships. And so there's a hypothesis, the "social intelligence hypothesis," that proposes that the selective pressures of living in these groups, of having to meet all these challenges, has favored the evolution of a brain that can do more complex cognitive processing. But what happens in birds' social groups? Do they learn from each other? She watches how they interact with each other and analyzes the results.

But how does this social structure relate to intelligence? This box is a little setup that's created to see whether birds can learn from watching each other, okay? So, there's two ways to open that box. You can either pull on the little rope there, and in that case, this is liftable, and they can pick up the reward that's in there. Or, you can just simply push on that box, and in that case, you just need to put the beak through and pick up the reward. One bird is trained to pull the ball, and half the rooks are allowed to watch.

When this group tries the puzzle, they all do the same thing and pull the ball. Meanwhile, the other half are watching a bird trained to use the other solution, to push the ball. And when these birds try the puzzle, they repeat what they saw; they push the ball. This suggests these rooks learned how to solve the puzzle by watching another bird. This is called social learning, and it's considered very high-level thinking. It's certainly more advanced than an imprinted behavior.

It's also much more advanced than a behavior that you learn by individual trial and error. In this case, you're having to watch others perform a behavior, and then replicate that. It's new, and it's exciting, because it's something we've known in other species, like in primates, for example.

Nobody would have guessed about the rooks or the crows or the ravens. Nobody would have been able to say yes, I expect them to be able to do that. We had no idea. Social learning in crows and parrots could be a result of their larger brains, but what about birds with smaller brains, like geese? In the same place that Konrad Lorenz studied his geese, Isabella Scheiber, of the University of Vienna is exploring whether there's more to the goose mind than basic instinct.

Geese live in a clear social hierarchy, and this experiment tests whether their natural pecking order helps them figure out other relationships. Isabella arranges seven cards in a row and assigns a value to each one, blue being the highest and black the lowest. The geese don't see the complete row; they only see one pair at a time. In the experiment, green is higher than yellow, so under the green card is a treat. And the goose learns this pair.

But yellow is higher than purple, so on the next round, the reward is under the yellow card. Now, he's been taught that green is higher than yellow, and that yellow, in turn, is higher than purple. Be an early bird! Supplies are often limited!

Hobnob with famous people! Luminaries from the avian stratosphere, such as Mark Hagen, Dr. Irene Pepperberg, Robin Shewokis, Dr. Susan Friedman and Lara Joseph are just a few of the popular speakers seen at bird events over the past few years. This is your chance to meet them and ask questions! Get inside your bird's head! When you arrive at a bird event, check the day's schedule for workshops and special presentations by behavior experts and avian enrichment specialists and make a point of attending them.

You may glean that one important piece of information that will help solve your own bird's personality problem. At the very least, you' II come away with a better understanding of why your bird behaves the way it does. Meet your new best friend! Birds are often offered for sale at shows and marts. Avoid making an impulse purchase. Ask about health guarantees, and never purchase an unweaned bird unless you are experienced at handfeeding. Rescue groups and clubs may also offer birds for adoption at events.

Expect to go through a screening process before you are approved as an adoptive parrot parent. Some fees usually apply when adopting a pet bird. Supplies for birds and accessories for their pet humans abound at avian events, and this is your chance to scope out some new and unusual items for you and your bird.

Food, cages, toys, cleaning products, tee shirts, jewelry and decorative items are just a few of the things you' II find at most bird shows. Purveyors of avian services, such as veterinary care, grooming and bird-sitting may also be in attendance. It's like being at a World's Fair for exotic bird aficionados! Raffles, silent auctions, Tricky Trays and teacup auctions are great opportunities to win big!

Where permitted by law, most bird events feature some sort of prize winning opportunity. Items can range from small bird toys to large cages and electronics to vacations.

Dinner with the event headliner can be a major raffie attraction. Prizes are usually solicited from vendors, local businesses, bird club members and manufacturers of avian products.

Proceeds are often earmarked for education, conservation or avian medical research or rescue efforts.

meet the bird brains

The best time to establish a relationship with an avian veterinarian is before you have an emergency. Some bird events have a 'Meet the Vet' section or feature veterinarians as speakers.