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Hardly a bird brain

The Brilliant Betty (left) and the
shiftless, good-for-nothing Abel

Caw! Caw!

Betty the Caledonian crow is being studied by Oxford University's Behavioral Ecology Research Group along with her male lab-mate, Abel. Crows and Ravens are known to be smart birds. In the wild, Caledonian crows do use tools; they will strip the leaves from twigs and then use the sticks to poke into holes and spear grubs. They also make tools from their own molted feathers (basically in the same manner as the twigs) and by tearing cardboard or bark into strips and using them as scrapers.

Then Betty did something scientists hadn't seen before - she designed a tool from a piece of wire so she could solve a problem - pull a bucket of food out of a tube-shaped container. She did this by taking a straight wire, jamming it into a crack at the base of the container, then pulled it to the side several times until it made a hook. This is pretty damn brilliant, if I do say so myself. It makes her the first animal, other than a human, that has shown a clear understanding of cause and effect, and the skill to create a tool for that specific task. Not even chimpanzees, our closest cousins, have been seen to create a tool from scratch.
This better not be grubs again...

Abel the Crow, (who is male - not that I'm saying that has a lot to do with his despicable behavior) (cough) had a better solution to the problem. He would wait until Betty made the tool, then he'd steal it from her. When he'd get extra lazy, he'd wait until she actually got the food, then steal that. Abel needs his ass kicked, or what ever the bird equivalent of an "ass" is.

Betty's ability was first noticed after the pair were shown a clear tube that had a small bucket with food at the bottom. The bucket had a handle, and they were given a hooked wire and also a straight one, then observed to see if their choices for solving the puzzle were based on intelligent choice. Betty chose the hooked wire, and after Abel That Big Doodyhead took the hooked wire from Betty, she adapted by making her own by bending the straight wire. She repeated this skill 9 out of 10 times.

Ta da!

Professor Kacelnik, head Bird Scientist Dude, said, "She didn't do it the same way each time. Sometimes she stood on the wire with one foot while pulling the tip with her beak, or she stuck the wire into a crevice and worked on it, coming from different angles. If it didn't work right at first, and she couldn't get the food, she'd take it out and fix it so that it did. What we believe is that there isn't a single kind of intelligence," he told the UK's Press Association. "Different species have developed different kinds of intelligence appropriate to their particular needs."

Crows and ravens are both good at solving problems, as are those damnable filthy pigeons. Experiments with pigeons have also shown that they can identify humans and recognize letters of the alphabet. Bluejays and other birds are known to be excellent 'builders' and some species even show artistic talents, taking great pains to decorate their nests with shells, rocks, flowers and even colors of juice from berries as part of their mating rituals.

To see a (Quicktime) movie of Betty in action:
will open in another window .....http://users.ox.ac.uk/~kgroup/trial7_web.mov

The Behavioral Ecology Research Group:
ditto..... http://users.ox.ac.uk/~kgroup/tools/tools_main.shtml

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