Birdbrains Are Starting to Look Pretty Good Right Now…

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you’ve no doubt noticed that one of our favorite topics is puzzle-solving animals. In the past, we’ve discussed examples of puzzle solving in catsdogscrowscockatoosoctopuses, bees, pigs, and squirrels.

You probably noticed we’ve got two types of birds on that list already. The more we learn about birds, the more they add to their puzzly resumes.

For instance, did you know that sulphur-crested cockatoo parrots in Australia are teaching each other how to open trash bin lids in order to grab snacks. It’s not all that different from the birds that raided milk containers in Britain a century ago. Many birds learned quickly from their more clever brethren.

As for crows, they’re probably the puzzly kings of birddom.

There was a famous study about a crow named Betty, who would bend pieces of wire in order to obtain food.

Originally, Betty was treated as a genius, only for scientists to later discover that many other crows also have a penchant for making tools and figuring out innovative solutions to problems.

The story of Betty no doubt inspired another study, which tested both the puzzle solving wits and social skills of crows.

There were two crows gathered from different locations with no discernable previous connection. On a table, the scientists placed two pieces of wire — a hooked piece of wire and a straight piece of wire. Each crow had a bottle with meat inside. The crows could see each other, but each had to solve the problem separately. Each crow grabbed one of the two wires.

There are differing accounts of this study, and I couldn’t track down the original. Some say the straight wire was the only way to get the food out, others the hooked wire.

[Image courtesy of Royal Society Publishing.]

In the end, the result was the same. During the first test, only one crow could get the food.

Scientists ran the test a second time, expecting the crows to fight for the one wire that allowed the victor to acquire their food.

And yes, both crows went for the same wire.

But not as competitors.

One held the wire in place, the other bent it. They cooperated, without language, so that both could get food.

That is some solid puzzly thinking.

Factor in other studies about crow cooperation (crooperation?) and stories from Japan about crows building decoy nests to distract patrols intended to remove their real nests from city power grids, and you start to wonder whether crows will join Dr. Fill at the next edition of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve heard some stories about puzzle-solving raccoons that I need to follow up on. The menagerie of puzzly animals just grows and grows.

Have you heard any stories about clever creatures that belong on the list of puzzle-solving animals, fellow puzzlers? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you


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