Smart Birds: Cockatoos Solve a Complex Five-Step Puzzle

Goffin's Cockatoo in flight

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Marah09013

Think you have a smart parrot? That may be, but a Goffin’s Cockatoo has recently set a new standard by which bird – and indeed animal – intelligence will be measured. Pipin, as the avian genius is known, demonstrated a skill previously known to exist only in chimpanzees. Using sequential problem solving abilities, Pipin (and, after a time, several of his “lab partners”) figured out how to open 5 different locks – each of which jammed the next lock, and each requiring a different physical maneuver – in order to obtain a treat. Mastering the task, which took nearly 2 hours, required the bird to solve problems, remember what he learned and apply it to a different task, and focus on a distant reward…and, I assume, to have patience!

 

The Experiment

The fascinating research into Psittacine intelligence was conducted at the University of Vienna, and published in the journal PLoS ONE (8(7): e68979;doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.oo68979; 7/13). Ten Goffin’s Cockatoos were presented with a box containing a treat. The door to the box was transparent, so that the birds could see the treat (a nut) within, and was secured by 5 locks.

 

Lock number 1 had to be opened before the cockatoos could get to lock number 2, which had to be opened in order to gain access to lock number 3, and so on. Opening each lock required a different physical action – removing a pin, screw and bolt, turning a wheel and shifting a latch.

 

Without prior training, Pipin opened the box in less than 2 hours. The article stressed the speed of his problem solving, which of course is impressive. But I’m equally surprised by the fact that he could keep at a problem for such a long time. As anyone who has tried to train parrots (or toddlers!) knows, their attention spans are relatively short (or so I thought…maybe birds and 2-year-old children have been tricking me all along!).

 

Five other “less-cerebrally-gifted” but still quite intelligent Goffin’s Cockatoos solved the puzzle after watching Pipin perform or following exposure to each lock individually.

 

Juvenile Goffin's Cockatoo

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Snowmanradio

Researchers Make the Test More Difficult

 

Sequential problem solving requires a parrot or person to remember and then apply what has been learned, and to work for a distant reward. In order to test these and related abilities, the University of Vienna researchers scrambled the locks, so that number 3 was first in line, followed by number 5, etc. Once a cockatoo had mastered a lock, it rarely became confused if the lock’s place in the puzzle was changed. And locks that were disabled by the researchers (left unlocked) were given a quick glance and then ignored.

 

How Bright is Your Parrot?

I’ve spent a lifetime working with parrots and other animals, yet never fail to be amazed by stories of learning abilities relayed to me by readers and zoo visitors. Please be sure to post your own “smart bird” tales below!

 

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio. I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

 

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank.

 

Further Reading

Kea Intelligence Shocks Researchers http://blogs.thatpetplace.com/thatbirdblog/2011/06/24/kea-parrot-intelligence-shocks-researchers/#.U7AokrEnUpo

African Gray Parrot Wins Talking Contest and Lands Movie Role http://blogs.thatpetplace.com/thatbirdblog/2011/02/22/african-grey-parrot-wins-international-talking-contest%E2%80%A6and-a-movie-role/#.U7Ao3LEnUpo

Sequential Problem Solving in Goffin’s Cockatoos (Original Article) http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0068979

Abandoned Baby Birds: What to Do When You Find a Baby Bird out of the Nest

Yellow-faced Honeyeater nest

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by benjamint444

Hand-rearing a bird that seems abandoned is an extremely difficult process. If you’ve observed wild baby birds in their nests – calling continually for food and greedily gulping down whatever their parents bring, this may be hard to believe…seems most would be very easy to satisfy. However, there are a great many factors to consider, fine points that are not well-known and potential health problems that are all-too-common. As a lifelong zookeeper and licensed wildlife rehabilitator, I’ve raised many nestling birds representing a huge array of species – and none were easy! Today I’d like to highlight some important points one should consider before taking on the very tedious job of raising a young wild bird.

 

Note: The following information is general in nature, designed to provide an overview of what to expect. Please post below for detailed advice on hand-rearing specific types of birds.

 

Senegal parrot hatchling

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Snowmanradio

Immediate and Future failures – Be Prepared!

Those who take in orphaned wild animals of any type are generally kind-hearted souls who take losses personally. But death and failure cannot be avoided, and may be the rule rather than the exception. Baby birds that fall from the nest often have internal injuries, and are usually weakened by parasites, lack of food, and exposure to the elements. Turning the bird over to an experienced rehabilitator is usually the best option; please post below if you need help in locating a local rehabber or veterinarian.

 

If they survive, hand-raised wild birds often have difficulty with socialization, and may be rejected by others of their species. A Great Horned Owl I helped to rear tried to feed mice to its keepers when it entered breeding condition, but fled from other owls…a good educational animal, but not suitable for release. Captive-reared birds may lack survival skills, and their immune systems may not serve them well under natural conditions.

 

Attention to Detail is Critical

Until fully-feathered, young birds typically need to be kept at 85-90 F. Commercial rearing foods used for seed-eating hatchlings must be properly prepared and cooked, then served at the ideal temperature (generally 101-104 F) many times daily and, at least early on, 1-5 times each night.

 

While it appears that parent birds merely stuff food down their chicks’ throats, feeding is actually a very delicate procedure, and small mistakes can lead to death by asphyxiation or infection. As birds open their mouths for food, the glottis closes and the food winds up where it belongs. Weakened nestlings that do not beg are often “force-fed” by well-meaning rescuers. Food and liquid provided thus usually wind up in the lungs, resulting in a quick fatality.

 

The condition of the chick’s crop must be monitored carefully, even if the youngster is eating well and appears hungry. Due to the nature of artificial diets and other factors, crops may fail to empty or retain air. Infections inevitably follow.

 

Dehydration is common, especially at typical household humidity levels and for birds that are not feeding eagerly. The water content of your bird’s food must be carefully monitored and adjusted as the bird grows and different foods are offered.

 

Short-eared Owl

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Jerzy Strzelecki

Eager Feeders May Still Face Troubles

Wild nestlings are provided with dozens to hundreds of different food items by their parents. The diets of most, even those species that are confirmed seed-eaters as adults, are comprised largely of insects, spiders and other invertebrates. The nutrients they contain are impossible to duplicate artificially. As a consequence, birds that survive hand-rearing often exhibit growth and immune system abnormalities.

 

Transferring a youngster to the adult diet can be tricky, and can result in losses even when all else has gone well. Depending upon the species, an entirely new diet or additional food items will be needed. Some switch from insects to seeds and/or fruit, insect eaters and birds of prey begin taking whole animals, and so on…these drastic changes must be accommodated by the bird’s digestive system. Nestlings that have not been properly nourished may not be able to adapt.

 

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio. I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank.

 

Further Reading

 

Hand-Rearing the Black Palm Cockatoo

 

Assisting Abandoned Baby Birds

 

 

Helping Spring Birds: Bird Houses, Foods and Baths for Small, Shy Species

Indigo Bunting

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Dan Pancamo

With winter finally vanquished here in the USA (or, most of the USA, anyway!), our long-awaited migratory birds have returned and are busy fattening up and building nests.  Many standard bird feeders, foods and other supplies work well year round, but spring also brings some changes that provide new opportunities for us to assist our avian friends.  As competition for food (especially insects), water and nest sites increases, small, retiring birds may be forced away from backyard bird feeders, baths and houses. This is especially true in areas where Starlings, English Sparrows and other aggressive species are common.  Warblers, Vireos, Wrens and similar native birds are at a disadvantage, and many are in decline.  Bats are also in trouble, with many suffering from an emerging disease, habitat loss and insecticide use…a bat house can be a real boon to local populations.  Following are a few interesting items that can be used to lend a hand.

 

Species-Specific Bird and Bat Houses

Although common birds can co-opt houses designed for rare ones, trying to cater to the needs of individual species can prove effective.  This is especially true if you place nest boxes in locations that will draw target species and discourage others.  Please post below if you have questions on nest box placement.

 

I especially like the Gourd House.  Although designed with Purple Martins in mind, this unique little nest site should also prove attractive to various wrens and finches.  It is constructed of plastic and equipped with a drain hole.  A ring allows you to easily hang it in the thick cover favored by many small, shy birds.  Also available are houses with dimensions that will suit Chickadees, Blue Birds and similar species.

 

t261082The Audubon/Woodlink Bat House is very sturdy, and quite attractive.  Even if you do not regularly see bats, it may be worth a try.  Little Brown Bats and several other species have managed to hang on even in the heart of NYC, and safe roosting sites are critical to their well-being.  Given that even the smallest bats can consume at least 600 insects per hour – many of which will likely be mosquitoes – bat roosts aren’t bad for our well-being either!

 

Bird Baths and Drinkers

I found two interesting items which should appeal to birds that are reluctant to leave cover in order to drink and bathe.

 

t261017The Perky Pet Droplet Station is a source of drinking water rather than a bird bath (water is enclosed…so no cleaning needed!).  It is small and easy to hang amid vines and branches.

 

The terra cotta Glazed Bird Bath can also be hung in locations that may dissuade starlings and other backyard “bullies” while attracting warblers, native sparrows, thrushes, and similar birds.

 

Important Breeding Season Foods

Most typical backyard birds consume protein-rich foods as the breeding season approaches, and rear their chicks on insects and other invertebrates.  While the spring spike in insect populations is usually sufficient, there may be situations where supplementary feeding will benefit small birds.  Freeze-dried mealworms might be just the thing to convince Brown Thrashers, various warblers, and other secretive insectivores to visit your feeders.

 

It may also be useful to provide species-specific foods and feeders that are designed with finches, hummingbirds and others in mind.  Seed mixes that contain ingredients favored by Goldfinches, Cardinals and others are now available.

 

Chuckanut’s Backyard Wildlife Diet will attract chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits, and other native mammals.  If you’re lucky, and able to view your feeders after dark, you may even get to see my all-time favorites, Flying Squirrels.

 

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio.  I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable.  I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly.  Thanks, until next time, Frank. 

My Parrot is Sneezing – What’s Wrong!?

Sun Conure

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Melanie Phung

All parrots occasionally sneeze to clear their nares (nostrils).  However, frequent sneezing and the discharge of mucus is cause for concern.  Sometimes, a simple environmental change, such as the use of a humidifier, is all that is required.  In other cases conditions ranging from bacterial or viral infections to tumors, air sac mites or nutritional deficiencies may be involved.  Unfortunately, even if it is obvious that dry or dusty air is playing a role, medical issues cannot be ruled out without veterinary advice – websites purporting to aid in home diagnosis should not be relied upon.  In this article, we’ll review some common causes of sneezing and nasal discharge in budgies, cockatiels, cockatoos and other parrots.

 

General Considerations

As mentioned, an occasional sneeze is normal. The presence of mucus or other nasal discharge (with or without sneezing) should be taken as a danger sign.  Although typically associated with respiratory or related infections, mucus may also be formed when parrots need to rid their nares of dust, or in response to smoke or other chemical irritants.  Either way, prompt action is needed.  While veterinarians can draw some conclusions from the mucus’ appearance – clear, thick, coloration, presence of blood, etc. – pet owners should not speculate and attempt to resolve the problem without expert assistance.

 

Finger training

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Evenprime

Your Parrot’s Environment

Environmental problems are easier to remedy than are medical concerns.  While some budgies (parakeets) and some other species are adapted to arid habitats, most parrots are native to environments that are relatively humid for much or all of the year.  Indoor air in dry regions, and any indoor air that is heated or air-conditioned, is too dry for many commonly-kept parrots.

 

Fumes and mist or smoke from cooking, household cleaners and the like can also irritate the respiratory tract, leading to sneezing and the over-production of mucus.

 

Air filters, humidifiers, misting, live plants and saline flushes can be used to improve your pet’s environment.  However, be careful not to let environmental concerns mask a more serious medical condition – both can exist simultaneously.  Even if it is obvious that your home is too dry for your parrot, err on the side of caution and see a veterinarian.

 

Medical Concerns for Sneezing

Medical concerns that may be involved include fungal, bacterial, viral or yeast infections.  Parrots that have such ailments will usually show other symptoms as well, including appetite loss, a reluctance to move about, and labored breathing.  However, a bird may battle an infection for some time, behaving normally until a critical point is reached, at which time its condition can decline very quickly.  Therefore, a vet visit is prudent as soon as you notice unusual sneezing or a nasal discharge.

 

mediaNutrition

Any type of nutritional problem can weaken the immune system, leaving your pet open to attack by a variety of pathogens.  Vitamin A is of particular importance, as it is vital to the development of the cells lining the respiratory system.  Abnormal cells, common in Vitamin A deficient birds, seem to be easy targets for bacteria and other pathogens.  Most seeds are low in Vitamin A, while pellets and many fruits and vegetables have higher levels.  If your pet is on a seed-based diet, a vitamin supplement should be considered.  Please post below, and see the linked articles, for information on incorporating pellets and produce into parrot diets.

 

Other Possibilities

Tumors and other growths in the nares, sinuses or related areas may cause dry sneezing.  Parrots suffering from an air sac mite infestation may exhibit labored, open-mouthed breathing.

 

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio.  I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable.  I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly.  Thanks, until next time, Frank.

 

Further Reading

Nutriberries and Pellets: Improving Your Parrot’s Diet

 

Parrot Health: Labored Breathing and Respiratory Distress

 

 

 

Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease – An Incurable Parrot Virus Spreads

Cockatoo with PBFD

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by snowmanradio

The pet trade is being blamed for an emerging epidemic that is threatening captive and wild parrots worldwide.  Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD) is caused by a Circovirus that evolves quickly, spreads easily, and survives for years in nests and roosting areas.  African Gray and Eclectus Parrots, Macaws, Cockatoos, Love Birds and Ring-Necked Parakeets are especially susceptible, but over 60 species have been infected. Included among these are wild populations of several endangered species, such as Swift, Orange-Bellied and Norfolk Island Green Parrots.  First identified in 1987, PBFD has recently reared its ugly head on New Zealand’s South Island, where it is killing rare Yellow-Crowned Parakeets.

 

An Emerging, Untreatable Parrot Disease

The virus that causes PBFD seems to have evolved in Australia, and for a time was endemic to that continent.  The threatened Orange-Bellied Parrot was the first species in which it was identified.  It has now been found in wild and pet parrot populations throughout the world.

 

Unfortunately, ongoing research has not yielded a cure.  Three forms of the disease are known.  Peracute and Acute PBFD afflict hatchlings and nestlings, and quickly lead to death.  Adult parrots infected with Chronic PBFD can be assisted a bit by strengthening the immune system, but they generally succumb as well.

 

A proper diet, exposure to sunlight or a UVA/UVB bulb, and the establishment of a natural day/night cycle has been useful in some cases.  Please see this article for more on testing, diagnosis, and treatments that may lessen the symptoms of PBFD.

 

The Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease Strikes New Zealand

Yellow Crowned Parakeet

Uploaded to Wiki[pedia Commons by Scott Wieman

In 2012, University of Canterbury researchers announced that a new strain of PBFD had been found on South Island, New Zealand, which until then had been free of the virus.  The island’s threatened Yellow-Crowned Parakeets were stricken.  The existence of a new strain is especially troubling, and illustrates the difficulties involved in studying and eliminating rapidly-evolving Circoviruses.  The disease was previously identified in the already-rare Red-Fronted Parakeets on Little Barrier Island, off New Zealand’s North Island (site of a Kakapo rescue operation).

The Pet Trade Connection

New Zealand is home to several of the world’s most unusual parrots, such as the alpine-dwelling, meat-eating Kea and the nocturnal Kakapo.  Despite decades of protection and study, the much-loved Kakapo is on the brink of extinction.

 

Kea

Uploaded to Wikipedia commons by snowmanradio

Escaped and released non-native parrots, products of the legal and illegal pet trade, are considered to be the source of the PBFD outbreak on New Zealand.  Eastern Rosellas, which are native to Australia but feral on New Zealand, were found to be infected with the virus.  Other Australian parrots that are or may be breeding in New Zealand include the Rainbow Lorikeet, Crimson Rosella, Galah, and Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo.

 

To determine the extent of the PBFD problem in New Zealand, researchers are monitoring native and introduced parrots.  In recent years, nearly 800 individuals representing 7 endemic parrot species were tested for PBFD.  Genetic analysis of the PBFD virus is also being undertaken.

 

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio.  I’m a zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

 

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable.  I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly.  Thanks, until next time, Frank.

 

Further Reading

Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease in Pet Parrots

 Saving the Kakapo

Kea Intelligence Shocks Researchers

 

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