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Unique Bird Behavior – Ravens Use Beaks to “Show” Objects to Mates

RavenThe act of holding up or pointing to an object, in order to draw another’s attention, has been observed only among ourselves and Great Apes.  Known as deictic gesturing, this behavior is considered critical to the development of language, and a sign of great intelligence (you parents will likely recall the first time your toddler did something similar!).  Along with parrots, crows, and magpies, Common Ravens, Corvus corax, have proven themselves among the brightest of the world’s birds.  Recently, they have been observed to utilize deictic gestures, and are the only birds known to do so.

“Hey…look at this if you care about me”!

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and the University of Vienna have reported that Ravens pick up objects such as stones, branches and moss and show them to other Ravens.  In most cases, the bird being solicited is the other’s mate.  Once his or her attention is drawn, the pair usually jointly manipulates the object for a time.  Read More »

Do Parrots Understand What They Say? – “Yes”, According to a New Study

African Grey Parrot
Most parrot owners firmly believe that their pets understand at least some of what they say.  My own experience also indicates that this is true – there are just far too many examples of parrots’ utterances fitting the situation to be mere coincidence.  Then, of course, there was the famous Alex, an African Grey Parrot whose amazing learning abilities shocked even seasoned animal behaviorists (please see article below).  A recent study took an interesting new approach to analyzing parrot speech, and yielded some surprising findings. Read More »

Research Update – Do Parrots Recognize Individual Human Faces?

Those Observant Parrots
Parrot keepers are well aware that individual birds often “take to” one person or to people of one sex only, and respond with aggression or fear to others.  Long –term pet parrots most definitely react differently to the various people living in the household – seeming to know what they can “get away with” with one person,  when to expect a scratch on the head from another, and so on.

The Brightest Birds
Wildlife biologists at the University of Washington have recently (August, 2008) confirmed that crows do indeed recognize and remember the faces of individual people.  Crows and their relatives – jays, ravens and magpies – are among the most intelligent of birds, and are often compared to parrots in this regard.  I’m quite sure that the results of this research would be duplicated if conducted on parrots.

The Experiment
Researchers wearing masks designated as “dangerous” trapped, banded and released crows on the university’s grounds.  While subsequently walking about the campus wearing the “dangerous” masks, the researchers were consistently scolded and mobbed (harassed) by crows….when unmasked or wearing “neutral” masks, the researchers went unnoticed.  When paired with “neutral” mask wearers on walks, only the “dangerous” researchers drew the crows’ wrath.

Birds Teaching Birds
What’s more, although only 7 crows were trapped (the experiment was later repeated with a larger sample), 47 individual crows scolded the researchers.  Although crows will respond to the alarm calls of others, in some instances the originally trapped crows were not present when others sent up the alarm – obviously the trapped crows had somehow passed along their new-found knowledge to their neighbors!

Implication for Conservation
We’ve long known that fledgling birds will imprint (bond with, to the exclusion of their own species) upon general human characteristics…while hand-rearing barn owls and other species destined for release, I always work from behind a curtain, and such is standard protocol at most zoos.  This study, however, offers the first concrete evidence of individual face recognition.

I’m sure you parrot owners have many stories of your pets’ own remarkable abilities.

An interesting article providing further evidence of the keen environmental and people-oriented awareness possessed by parrots is posted at:

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