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WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE?
Magpie is a former journalist, attempted historian [No, you can't ask how her thesis is going], and full-time corvid of the lesbian persuasion. She keeps herself in birdseed by writing those bad computer manuals that you toss out without bothering to read them. She also blogs too much when she's not on deadline, both here and at Pacific Views.

Magpie roosts in Portland, Oregon, where she annoys her housemates (as well as her cats Medea, Whiskers, and Jane Doe) by attempting to play Irish music on the fiddle and concertina.

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Friday, August 17, 2007

Good thing these birds don't have opposable thumbs.

In today's corvid news, it turns out that New Caledonian crows are even better tool users than researchers had thought.

In experiments carried out by researchers at New Zealand's University of Auckland, crows showed evidence of analogical reasoning skills—a type of reasoning found only in humans and some great apes.


New Caledonian crow using first tool

Gypsy grabs the first stick.
[© 2007 University of Auckland]


From a BBC story on the research:

The crows were presented with:
  • A scrap of meat, which was tucked away, out of reach, in a box;

  • A small twig, which was too short to reach the food;

  • And another longer twig, which was long enough to reach the food, but was locked away well out of bill-grabbing range in another box....

Alex Taylor, lead author of the paper, said: "The creative thing the crows did was to use the short stick to get the long tool out of the box so that they could then use the long stick to get the meat."

Russell Gray, another author of the paper, told the BBC News website: "What is most amazing is that most of them did this on the first trial.

"The first time we gave them the problem, six out of seven tried to do the right thing.

"They took the little tool and they tried to get the big tool out, which we had made quite hard to reach, and four out of the six managed to get the big tool out and then use this to get to the food."

In another experiment, the positions of the long and short twigs were reversed.

The team found that all apart from one crow briefly attempted to use the long twig to try to retrieve the short twig from box before quickly correcting their mistake and using the long twig to directly access the food.

The scientists said the crows' performance was comparable to that of the great apes in similar experiments.

Or, as a friend of mine once commented after watching video of another tool-making feat by New Caledonian crows, there are humans who wouldn't figure out the two-tool task so quickly.

You can watch video of a crow named Gypsy making its very first attempt at the two-tool task if you go here [MPG file]. And if you go here, you can view other movies of very smart crows.

For more on how smart those New Caledonian crows are, check out the video in this earlier Magpie post.

Via UK Guardian and BBC News.

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