Birdbrain, indeed!

[Here, a crow reaches food by adding stones to containers
in order to raise the water level. Pretty crafty.]

Without a doubt, one of my favorite aspects of human society is our love of puzzles. We have this marvelous desire to challenge each other with all sorts of mechanical puzzles, logic games, pen-and-paper puzzles, apps, and riddles, and arguably the only thing better than creating such diabolical obstacles is overcoming them.

But humans aren’t the only puzzle solvers on the planet. In previous blog posts, we’ve explored the puzzly skills of octopuses and cockatoos, two immensely clever species that’ve each tackled their fair share of mechanical puzzles.

Sure, they’re not solving Sudoku grids or unraveling centuries-old mysteries like Nicolas Cage in National Treasure, but they are putting memory, dexterity, and problem solving to the test with remarkable success.

And today, we welcome a third non-human species to the pantheon of Earthly puzzle solvers: crows.

Check out this video, a segment from a BBC documentary, featuring a crow solving a multi-stage mechanical puzzle in order to feed itself:

[Not quite a feast for crows, is it?]

While this video is amazing, I can’t say I’m surprised. Crows are immensely clever creatures. I remember reading a news story from Japan a few years ago about crows outwitting numerous anti-crow efforts by the Japanese to control the sometimes-dangerous birds. (In Tokyo, crows have caused power outages, downed Internet lines, and even injured citizens.)

When anti-crow traps and sweeps began thinning their numbers, the crows responded by building multiple fake nests to mislead and flummox employees tasked with controlling the bird problem.

And with puzzly skills like those shown in the video on their side, those crows could prove to be an even bigger challenge than they expect.

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Puzzles are for the birds.

The vast majority of topics covered by this blog involve puzzles created, solved, and enjoyed by humans, but every once in a while, I stumble across a story that reminds me puzzle-solving is hardly restricted to bipedal opposable-thumb-toting mammals like ourselves.

Yes, much like the intrepid and wily octopus who graced the pages of this blog a few months ago, we proudly welcome another species into the puzzle-fiend world:

The cockatoo.

Scientists recently tested the Goffin’s Cockatoo’s ability to manipulate various locks and deadbolts to see both how the birds negotiated the locks (which often operated in sequence, requiring several different actions in a certain order) and then whether the birds would apply previously-learned patterns to new variations they encountered.

It turns out the birds weren’t flummoxed at all by the variations, moving through them with the same deftness, tenacity, and creativity it took to achieve their tasty prizes in the first place. (Click here for greater detail on the experiments themselves.)

Yes, some of the birds figured it out by observing others, or by encountering each of the locks individually at first, but at least one of the birds solved it without any assistance whatsoever. Truly, this cockatoo is the door-opening snake of the bird kingdom, meant to be feared and respected in equal measure. (Video link for those interested in door-opening snake evidence.)

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to add another species to the list of puzzle-solving creatures. After all, we’ve got anagramming dogs and word-weaving spiders here at PuzzleNation, so there’s plenty of precedents.

In any case, please welcome the Goffin’s cockatoo to our puzzle-loving family, and enjoy this video of the cockatoo locksmiths (lockatoos?) at work: