Birds Have Amazing Intelligence!
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.
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.
Latest Animal Intelligence News
1-8-19 Flowers hear bees and make sweeter nectar when they’re buzzing nearby
Evening primrose flowers can hear approaching bees and quickly make their nectar sweeter in response to the sound. Lilach Hadany and colleagues at Tel-Aviv University, Israel, collected nectar from flowers before and after exposing them to a range of sounds, including recordings of bees and synthetic noises. Within three minutes of exposure to bee sounds or artificial sounds of a similar frequency, the flowers increased the concentration of sugar in their nectar by 20 per cent on average. There was no change in sugar levels in flowers played no sound, or higher-frequency sounds. Bees are highly sensitive to differences in sugar concentration, preferring to go after higher calorie nectar. By improving the rewards on offer, plants may benefit by encouraging the pollinators to spend longer visiting the plant, or to visit more flowers of the same species. Enhancing sugar levels when pollinators approach might help a plant save energy in the long run, and reduce the risk of nectar being degraded by microbes or stolen by ants. “Nectar can be a significant energy investment, and thus keeping a constantly high level of sugar can be wasteful,” says Hadany. How plants detect the sound of bees is unknown. However, using highly sensitive laser instruments, the researchers found that the evening primrose flowers vibrate when played recordings of bee or moth sounds. Hadany thinks that flowers may receive sound pressure in a similar way to ears. When petals were removed from flowers, they vibrated less when played the sound clips, suggesting petals may help receive or amplify pollinator sounds.
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.
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