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Goffin’s Cockatoo Invents and Modifies a Tool – a Parrot “First”

Goffin’s CockatooHello, Frank Indiviglio here.  A Goffin’s Cockatoo living at the Vienna University stunned researchers by exhibiting behaviors never before seen in any parrot species.  The bird, known as Figaro, went far beyond “mere” tool use.  When confronted with an out-of-reach treat, he first searched for a stick to use, and then modified the stick so as to better suit it for his purposes.  Figaro’s accomplishments are especially surprising because he had not been trained in any way, nor had he observed other tool-using birds.  He seems to have “envisioned” a concept and acted upon it.  Please post your own “smart parrot” stories below.

Spontaneous and Unexpected Tool Use

Parrots are considered among the most intelligent of birds, but tool use has not been documented in their ranks.  True, the majestic Palm Cockatoo bangs wood against hollow trees in order to communicate (please see this article) and many species wedge nuts into crevices to ease the job of opening them, but advanced tool use seemed beyond their abilities. 

Figaro’s talents came to light purely by chance.  A researcher happened to be nearby when Figaro dropped a stone behind a metal cage divider.  Unable to reach the plaything with his feet, the enterprising cockatoo flew off and returned with a piece of bamboo.  He used the bamboo to push the stone within reach. Read More »

Budgerigar (Parakeet) Study Reveals how Birds Avoid Crashes in Tight Quarters

OilbirdsIf you observe wild birds, you’ve no doubt marveled at their ability to fly through dense brush without touching a single branch.  In NYC, I’ve twice been surprised to see pigeons flying at full speed through amazingly tight spaces when pursued by Red-Tailed Hawks.  Bats utilize echolocation to perform similar feats, but with few exceptions (i.e. the Oilbird, please see below), birds lack this adaptation.  So how do they do it?  According to a recent study (Current Biology, Oct., 2011) at Australia’s Vision Center and the University of Queensland, some species rely upon vision alone.

“See-Compare-Adjust Course”

Researchers worked with Budgerigars (Parakeets) that had been trained to fly an indoor course that allowed for careful monitoring.  They were able to show that the birds used their vision to sense and compare the speed at which they passed background images, and then adjusted their flight path accordingly.  Read More »

Kea Parrot Intelligence Shocks Researchers

Adult KeaParrots are known to be very intelligent, but a recent study of Kea Parrot (Nestor notabilis) learning abilities surprised even well-experienced ornithologists.  The study differed from most in that it required the birds not only to learn new tasks but to build upon that knowledge and to discard learned behaviors once they were no longer useful.  As you’ll see, the Keas definitely lived up to their Latin species name – notabilis – with quite “notable” results! Read More »

New Study Confirms Birds Have Distinct Personalities

Green finchHave you ever been met by blank stares when trying to convince “non-bird” people that your pet has a unique personality?  You might be believed if you’re referring to a parrot, but a canary or other finch…not likely.  However, a recent (April, 2011) study has confirmed that Greenfinches, Carduelis chloris, do indeed exhibit widely-varying personalities.  My experience, and that of countless other bird-keepers, convinces me that this is true for other species as well.

Behavioral Responses

By measuring stress levels in the blood of Greenfinches, researchers at the University of York (UK) established that differences in behavior were directly correlated to distinct personality types.  Read More »

Volunteer Bird Surveys – Results, Trends and Surprises

Northern FlickerVolunteer participants in Project Feederwatch, the Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count and similar efforts have been providing ornithologists with much-needed data for decades.  It’s simple to get involved, and there’s still time to help out in this winter’s programs (please see article below).  Today I’d like to summarize some results from both this winter and last.

Project Feederwatch

Overseen by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and several Canadian organizations, Project Feederwatch attracted 15,699 participants last winter (2009-2010).  Altogether, 112,590 lists, documenting a staggering 5,855,881 individual birds, were submitted.

California and the Southwest

Pine Siskins, Pine Grosbeaks and Redpolls, which often move as winter arrives, were quite scarce; this was likely due to the availability of food in Canada.

Leading all species in the region’s counts were House Finches, Dark-Eyed Juncos, Mourning Doves, Western Scrub Jays and White-Crowned Sparrows.  Steller’s Jays and Cooper’s and Sharp-Shinned Hawks (both of which visit feeders in search of prey) were less in evidence than usual.

Lesser Goldfinches, Ruby-Crowned Kinglets and introduced Eurasian Collared Doves were seen in near-record numbers, while populations of Golden-Crowned Sparrows, Pine Siskins and Purple Finches seem to have declined.

The Northeast

Chickadees, Mourning Doves, Dark-Eyed Juncos, Downy Woodpeckers and Blue Jays maintained their traditional “top 5” status, but all were seen in less-than-expected numbers.

Brown-Headed Cowbirds and Purple Finches were not abundant, and Redpolls were nearly absent.  On a positive note, Northern Flickers, Chipping Sparrows, and Eastern Bluebirds seem to be on the increase.  The introduced Eurasian Collared Dove continues to expand its range.

Please see the report below for summaries of counts held in other parts of the USA and Canada.

New York State

Cyanocitta stelleriI hope you’ll pardon my emphasis on my home state… While NYC may not seem ideal bird-counting territory, the grounds of the Bronx Zoo, Central Park and other hotspots have yielded over 250 species each.  Having haunted such places since childhood, I’ve seen a good many, including such notables as Long-Eared Owls and Bald Eagles.

The frigid environs of Albany would seem as forbidding to birds as does the Bronx, but here again there were many surprises.  The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation’s New Year’s Day Count revealed range expansions for Tufted Titmice and Northern Cardinals, both of which were absent from the region 50 years ago.  Red-backed Woodpeckers and Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers, first observed in 1989 and 2008, respectively, seem to be there to stay.

Volunteer bird-watchers amass reams of data that could not be gathered b any other means…and all of it is used by ornithologists to track the health of native bird populations. 


Further Reading

Project Feederwatch Results

How Birders can Contribute to Conservation

Video: Cooper’s Hawk on patrol at bird feeder

Steller’s Jay image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Jerry Keenan

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