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Medical Bird brains and tools

  1. Oct 18, 2005 #1

    Ivan Seeking

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    This story is a few years old but it came up on a PBS NOVA and seemed worth revisiting.

    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2002/08/0808_020808_crow.html
     
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  3. Oct 19, 2005 #2

    Lisa!

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    Although I dislike crows, but it seems that they're very clever!
     
  4. Oct 19, 2005 #3

    matthyaouw

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    I once met a crow with an impressive vocabulary of foul language. No kidding.
     
  5. Oct 19, 2005 #4
    Just a funny related anecdote:
    I remember a raven I saw at a zoo when I was little who would say nearly whisper little phrases while you weren't looking.
    The voice was so human-like regardless of a relatives insistance, I searched all around the cage for some trickster or speaker.

    I still remember the sound of him rasping "Hey buddy, got a cigarrette?"
    Not intellegent but wierd nonetheless.

    And more on topic but linkless:
    I also remember hearing of recent studies on adolescent elephants that responded in a very human-like way to emotional trauma. Aside from the grave visiting and the bone reverence seen in elephants this behavior is really eerie. The article was something about rage...

    Apparently, a great deal of predators of every kind were being found killed in a wildlife preserve. Not by poachers but crushed to death. Eventually they found it was a small group of male adolescent elephants that had formed some raging vigilante group out to destroy every predator they could find. Once conservationist observed the group for a while they somehow discovered that these particular adolescents had witnessed the butchering of thier parents by poachers. I think they revisited the site often or something.

    Many times I wonder if there are creatures smarter than humans that simply haven't evolved speech. A different kind of intellegence like an autistic savant. (which happen to have tiny brains in many cases)

    Then there's the other older story I saw on some nature channel of the gorilla that was taught sign language and the program's funding was cut and he was sold as an experimental animal to some other company. Some 15-20 years later the Gorilla's trainer has an opportunity to visit animal and when he does so he begins signing to him so excitedly that he's going too fast for the trainer to follow. Finally after signing back for him to slow down he's only unable recognize one sign over and over. After following the conversation long enough, he finally remembers. That sign was the sign that gorilla had designated as his own name and he'd simply forgotten it. However, the gorilla hadn't forgotten his own name after 20 years of silence.
     
  6. Oct 20, 2005 #5
    This says we'd be in big trouble if crows had opposable thumbs.
     
  7. Oct 23, 2005 #6

    Ouabache

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    I saw this same smart crow exhibiting cognitive skills, on a recent NOVA broadcast and was just about to post a note. I am pleased to see at least one other PF member viewed the same broadcast. I certainly did a double take when I heard them present this finding.

    It reminded me of a video that showed how chimpanzees had figured out how to use an unmodified rock to smash nuts to get the food inside. They refined their technique, applying just enough force to crack the nuts without shattering them into a multiple unidentifyable pieces.

    This news about the birds is much more exciting. Isn't their skeletal structure more closely related to dinosaurs ,than other animals? Hmmmm perhaps some dinosaurs had more cognitive skills than we may have guessed. :rolleyes:
     
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2005
  8. Oct 23, 2005 #7

    Math Is Hard

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    I love stories about smart critters. Thanks for sharing that, Ivan. I have been thinking I want to specialize in studying animal cognition as I go into upper division courses.

    I just came across another story about Alex, the famous African Grey parrot the other day. Check it out - he's doing some math! http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/07/0715_050715_parrotzero.html
     
  9. Oct 23, 2005 #8

    Ivan Seeking

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    By a fluke, one summer I spent some time at the closed military base, Camp Roberts, in central Ca., and there I saw something that appeared to be unique to the birds around the base. They had learned to drop nuts on the roads so that cars would run over them, thus exposing the interior which they liked to eat. As near as I could tell they normally couldn't eat these nuts. It would appear that they discovered them on the roads by chance, and at some point began to collect the nuts, drop them on the road, and then wait for cars to pass by and break them open.

    I should say that one particular kind of bird did this. They were large black birds...IIRC...maybe crows, but I can't be sure.
     
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2005
  10. Oct 24, 2005 #9

    Moonbear

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    This seems like an easily learned adaptation of a natural behavior. I'm trying to recall if it was blue jays or blackbirds, probaby blue jays because they were the most aggressive...when I was a kid, we'd put out walnuts for the birds (because my grandmother put them in our Christmas stockings and we didn't really care much for walnuts and they were too much work to open anyway)...they'd drop them from the trees to the concrete patio to crack them open if they couldn't do with their beak alone. The blue jays also used to be the only ones to eat the gypsy moth caterpillars, and they did it by beating the caterpillar against a tree to remove the fuzzy part! (Or at least that's what they appeared to be doing...we had been told birds didn't eat those caterpillars because the secretions on the hairs were harmful or irritating or something like that, I don't really remember, but the blue jays seemed to have found a way around it.) I guess with such remarkable ability to learn, it's not too great a leap to using a tool, though even more impressive to not just use a tool, but to make a tool!
     
  11. Oct 24, 2005 #10

    Ivan Seeking

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    How quickly does something like this happen? If one bird firgures out how to accomplish a new task, do most other birds of the same species who witness this learn the trick, or is this skill learned only by a few other birds, and then later, a few others...etc?
     
  12. Oct 25, 2005 #11

    Moonbear

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    I don't know how quickly it would happen. Animals do seem to learn more quickly from others of their species than they do from other influences (i.e., it's easier to train a second dog if you have a first dog that is already well-trained...they seem to learn as much from the first dog as from your training). I don't know if they just learn by watching, or if there is some other form of communication that facilitates the learning process. It's an interesting question though.
     
  13. Oct 29, 2005 #12

    Ivan Seeking

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    I forgot to mention the funniest part. At the base, while driving along on a small paved road and well away from any trees, a few dozen nuts are seen spread out on the road with a flock of birds lined up and waiting along the roadside.

    In fact, while we're on the subject of behavior, I once saw a bunch of turkey vultures [Cathartes aura] congregating and acting as if having a town hall meeting. About five or six...maybe evem more like ten were seen sitting on a fence, with one bird walking back and forth and the ground in front of the other vultures. They were all squawking loudly and the one on the ground seemed to be the center of attention. This was such a strange sight that I stopped the car and watched for a bit. After a time, the bird on the ground jumped up on the fence and second one jumped down and began the same routine as the first. This continued until I had to leave a few minutes later.

    Does anyone know what they were doing?
     
  14. Oct 29, 2005 #13

    matthyaouw

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    This kind of behaviour isn't confined to jays/blackbirds (If American blackbirds are the same as British ones, it must be the Jays that did it). Either crows or gulls (maybe both) do it regularly in an area of Scotland I visited. Many ourcrops of rock were littered with broken shells where they had been dropped to break them open.

    Ivan- How sure are you that the birds were dropping the nuts expecting the cars to run over them? Were they maybe just dropping them on the road because it is a hard surface as good as any rocky outcrop (perhaps one easier to spot from altitude)?

    Darwin's finches have also been known to use tools. See here:
    http://www.bookrags.com/sciences/biology/tool-use-ansc-04.html
     
  15. Nov 27, 2005 #14

    Ouabache

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    You are right about gulls. The last time I visited the coast, I heard a seagull dropping something onto a hard paved surface. After observing it do this several times, I ran over to see what it was. It turned out to be a hermit crab inside a slightly cracked Welk's shell. Feeling sorry for the crab, I brought her over to ocean, swirled it around and to my relief the crab crawled back into the water, saved from a dismal fate by a curious primate. :biggrin:
     
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