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Behold the power of... birds

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Being a bird brain has all but lost its sting in light of the most recient discovery in avian intellegence.
Previously, scientist had seen birds using problem solving to get food, and even tools (ravens, woodpeckers, and vultures all have done it) but now they've seen crows not merely using a ready made tool from the environment, but CREATING hooks to get food. This is not merely in the lab. In the wild, New Caledonia crows have been seen to make two different sorts of hooks to snare food, even with no previous exposure to someone bending a wire into a hook. Avians have shown again and again a propensity for calculating spacial relationships, understanding symbols and even, in the case of parrots, constructing and communicating in a verbal language that humans can understand.
Chimpanzees and other non-human primates, on the other hand, have never shown any indication of spontanious modification of an item to create a specialized tool.

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Your rating: None

Actualy, many of the great apes will use modified tools. For instance, turning broad leafs into a shelter or even portable umberela is something many orangutan learn to do.

Plus, give a chimpanzee something complicated, and they will try to take it apart. This dosnt seem to be a sign of intelegenc, just distruction. But remeber that most animals will ignore anything not imediatly obvious, and chimpanzees will go to great effort to find out whats inside something.

Note tho, that the question of intelegence is a lot more dificult than just 'speaking words' or 'recognising letters'. Personaly, I rate Rooks and Crows to be much more intelegent than a Parrot, which the article misleadingly claims to be 'The Most Intelegent'.

Generaly, the BBC news site is good for general news. But as soon as it gets specialised into technical stuff it looses it. Sadly, it looks like they didnt even bother to check with the BBC's own natural history museam which has a ton of footage of animals using tools.

Your rating: None

[Personaly, I rate Rooks and Crows to be much more intelegent than a Parrot, which the article misleadingly claims to be 'The Most Intelegent'. ]

I'm curious why you feel crows to rank above parrots such as the African Grey or Blue Fronted Amazon in terms of intellect?

-Feren
"We use them for divine retribution."

Your rating: None

How often have you seen a Crow with its wings cliped and in a cage? Crows and Ravens have coexisted with Humans for a very long time, yet are not 'kept' or considered as vermin like seagulls and pidgeons.

Your rating: None

Plus the Raven was on my school crest, and flocks of them regularly 'cleaned' the grounds of scraps.

Your rating: None

I really don't think that's a valid evaluation. That's like saying humans who have allowed themselves to be enslaved are stupider than those who are free. There are a LOT of factors here, not the least of which is that humans choose charismatic and/or beautiful animals to domesticate - dogs and cats are kept more often than, say, naked mole rats, but I don't know that anyone would argue that's because mole rats are smarter....

Now crows and ravens are hardly naked mole rats, but they have historically been considered signs and/or harbringers of war, death, and misfortune. Plus they are common, very very common. Not many people keep english sparrows as pets, and that's definitely not because they're smart! Our perception of exotics go a fair ways towards choosing unusual (re: non- dog, cat, or livestock) pets and companions. Parrots are definitely exotic in appearance, and their ability to imitate/use language is definitely extraordinary.

To my knowledge no definition of sentience has yet been concocted that includes all humans but does NOT include African grey parrots. (At least, not one that doens't say something as bullheaded as "it has to be human.") Exclude African greys, and you exclude some humans as well. They're that smart.

Intelligence comes in different flavors and expressions, and so does sentience, IMHO. There is no solid line between 'sentient' and 'not sentient,' especially not one that is magically drawn at the human/animal species barrier. Some animals show a propensity for language understanding, or tool using, or tool inventing, or problem solving.... motivations and means of accomplishment vary so much that they're rediculously hard to compare.

IMHO, YMMV, no offense, if you can't stand my opinion feel free to ignore me, yadda yadda.

Your rating: None

[How often have you seen a Crow with its wings cliped and in a cage? Crows and Ravens have coexisted with Humans for a very long time, yet are not 'kept' or considered as vermin like seagulls and pidgeons.]

Well, one of the fellows I know has a crow named Lockheed, which is kept in a cage that positively dominates their livingroom. Crows have been kept as pets for years, however, I would explain the current lack of many aviculture enthusiasts keeping corvids very simply: by and large they're considered far too "common" for most people to be interested in keeping them. But I digress...

I'm sorry, but I fail to see how your point reflects upon why you feel a crow is more intelligent than a parrot such as an African Grey. Perhaps I'm missing something, can you expound on this for me?

-Feren
"We use them for divine retribution."

Your rating: None

I'm not saying Parots are not intelegent. But, its that Parots can use human like speech in their paterns that makes it *apear* that they can be more intelegent than other birds that also have complex 'language'.

Ravens and Crows have a complex social structure, and interact with each other. Ravens will do stunts to impress their flock, and share food with those they like. Use of tools by them has also been added to their observed skills.

John Terres - "Corvids have the highest degree of intelligence",
Bernd Heinrich - "Ravens are assumed to be the brains of the bird world"
Konrad Lorenz - "Ravens display the highest mental development"

Your rating: None

The measures of animal intelligence and sentience I've seen have all had one major shortcoming, and that is that they fail to take into account the possibility that animals may possess forms of intelligence that humans lack and may not even be able to comprehend.

If you consider counting, or making/using tools, most animals' brains are simply not wired to provide them these abilities, and many of those that do have them only to a degree that would be regarded as rudimentary by human standards. If they even have the ability to recognize that our abilities are any different from their own, it is probably impossible for them to comprehend how humans do it.

Now, lets put the shoe on the other foot. Consider smell and scent. Dogs and other canids have a far more sensitive sense of smell than humans. Based on observations, one may surmise that they learn what we've been doing, where we've been or what mood we're in by smelling us (does it embarrass you to be smelled by a dog soon after you've had sex?), and dogs seem to have a complex system of communication among themselves of which scent plays a major part. Many people look at this and all they see is that dogs have a more sensitive olfactory sense. Do you think maybe it goes beyond that, and that dogs possess a kind of "scent intelligence" that we don't have, and because our brains aren't wired for it we can't comprehend it? I personally think its very likely. I can think of times when my dog acted as if I was ignoring or overlooking something that she seemed to think should have been obvious.

Humans may dismiss "scent intelligence", or any other form of intelligence where we are inferior to some animals, on the grounds that we get along just fine the way we are so they must not be that important in the overall scheme of things, but that again is a very human-centric attitude, and as long as humans with this attitude are the ones deciding how to measure intelligence, humans will always come out on top. By definition.

Your rating: None

[But, its that Parots can use human like speech in their paterns that makes it *apear* that they can be more intelegent than other birds that also have complex 'language'.]

I disagree. You're making a rather broad generalization by saying that just because some parrots mimic that they are limited to only "appearing" as if they are using the language. I also will state that I never once asserted that just because parrots could "talk," where crows and their relatives don't (to the best of my knowledge) that parrots were more intelligent. I will, however, agree it's true that most people feel more of an affinity towards parrots because of this fact.

Now, having gotten that out of the way, let's get into the meat and potatoes of this part. True, many parrots will mimic human language and through positive or negative reinforcement they'll learn to include the behavior of speaking a word or phrase in such a manner that it almost always convinces the owner their bird is, in fact, reasoning with them. For example, my parents had a Blue Fronted Amazon that would ask, "May I have some?" if he saw somebody eating a snack such as a cracker or potato chip. To the untrained eye this would appear to be "intelligent" behavior, after all it seems that the bird has learned human "manners" and was asking politely for a treat. This is simply a product of positive reinforcement, though: my mother would repeat the phrase "May I have some?" to him a few times if she saw she had gotten his attention with an item of food, and then give him a small piece as positive reinforcement, especially if he seemed like he was trying to repeat what she had said. This continued until he learned to speak the phrase completely. Once he had mastered the phrase he learned that it wasn't just when my mother was approaching him with food that the phrase was useful. Over time the parrot learned that if he made that same noise he could get somebody from the next room to bring him something. That's intelligent, learned behavior alright, but it isn't any more remarkable than Pavlov's dogs, who learned to associate the ring of a bell with the appearance of a particularly tasty bowl of food -- they displayed their awareness of the association not by speaking but by salivating. The experiment was further extended to rats and pigeons, who were taught that if they pressed or pecked at a bright red button they would be rewarded with food. Again, learned behavior -- nothing all that special. This is something we're all taught in high school psych classes.

Once we start reaching beyond those studies, though, things get a lot less clear-cut. However, it remains easy to separate simple learned behavior (where an animal is smart enough to learn a behavior or skill in return for some sort of award such as food or approval of its master) from higher-level cognitive skills, and that's where things really start to get interesting with parrots. Several scientific research groups were intrigued by the ability of parrots to mimic human language and posed the question, "Does it end with simple mimicry, or does it extend beyond?" There's no doubt that gorillas and chimps are what people almost universally accept as "intelligent," they've proven it in study after study. The new studies are even more intriguing and serve to reinforce the previous findings because the sujects are simians that have learned the complex American Sign Language. Armed with a language that is understood both by the subjects and the scientists the chimps are able to convey needs, desires and even emotions -- showing a mental underpinning that is capable (and used) for things that are far beyond the reach of simple mimicry.

Research done in Europe during the 1940's and 1950's that Grey parrots could learn various tasks that were considered to be symbolic or conceptual -- a trait held by many in the field to indicate "true" intelligence.

Some of the most groundbreaking work has been done by Dr. Irene Pepperberg, who created The Alex Foundation. The foundation was established around 1999 or 2000 by Dr. Pepperberg to help continue funding and raise awareness of her work at the University of Arizona (most notably, she is with the UoA's Psychology Department). Dr. Pepperberg is well known for her groundbreaking work and research in avian intelligence and communication. Her methodolgy is based on the same premises that have been used to evaluate intelligent behavior with chimps and dolphins. Using these same methods she has given some rather concrete proof that parrots have extensive reasoning skills.

I'm sure that you're already well aware of Dr. Pepperberg's work with Alex, a Congo African Grey. Alex was taught using well-documented techniques. In 1991 he had a vocabulary which of over 100 words. As of 1998 Alex was also learning how to read, and had demonstrated the ability to perform arithmetic. The work Dr. Pepperberg has done forces Alex to actually reason things out. If she places three square items in front of him and two round ones and then asks him, "How many square?" he cannot rely upon a learned behavior. He has to know what "square" is and what "square" is not. He must know how to tally them up, and then respond. Alex is able to articulate what he desires with phrases such as "Come here," "I want X" and the like. And, like any good two year old, he knows quite well how to employ the word "no!" (And I can speak from experience that parrots are just like two-year-olds, so it doesn't surprise me at all that he's mastered that word and its meaning). In 2001 Dr. Pepperberg embarked on a project called "InterPet Explorer," which was conceived by a 20-person group at MIT to put a system in place to allow a Grey named Arthur (another of Pepperberg's research subjects) to navigate online sites. Other research has been done to duplicate Pepperberg's work and is meeting with similar results, thus proving the ability of the methodology to produce duplicatable, reproducable results. Papers are frequently being written that reference the work of Dr. Pepperberg and almost universally agree with the findings and conclusion that parrots can operate on approximately the same cognitive level as chimps.

[Ravens and Crows have a complex social structure, and interact with each other.]

This is not a unique trait by any stretch of the imagination: most animals have social structures if they have even the most remote form of interaction with groups. Horses have a social structure as do packs of dogs, herds of deer, lion prides and even schools of fish (witness my Opaline Gourami dominating the Neon Tetras but yielding to my Tiger Barb). It's little surprise that avians have social structures as well. Depending upon how you define "complex" then one could argue that the structure does indeed vary from species to species, but there have been no studies done that I am aware of that indicate one particular breed is any more "socially adept" than others. In general the vote is still out on the question of intelligence having any significant impact upon an animal's ability to interact with its peers, be that animal a dog or a human (there have been a number of studies done on humans to see of people that are more intelligent interact better with their peers. The findings were inconclusive at best).

[Ravens will do stunts to impress their flock, and share food with those they like.]

Again, that trait is not unique to the species in the least. Parrots regurgitate food for those they consider to be mates or under their care (a process that my neighbor discovered is highly flattering but also highly messy), cats bring mice back to their litters to help teach them hunting skills (as well as to provide gifts to their owners if they're indoor/outdoor cats), etc. I've seen horses introduced to the pasture run, prance and whinny in an attempt to impress their new paddock-mates.

[Use of tools by them has also been added to their observed skills.]

I'll definately give them that. I can't say I've seen any yellow napes or cockatiels creating anything you could consider a "tool" by any stretch of the imagination, but I will say it's not entirely unqiue in the animal world -- sea otters have been using rocks to crack open mollusk shells for some time. What's interesting is that according to a brief PBS documentary, sea otters are the only otters to employ tools.

[John Terres - "Corvids have the highest degree of intelligence",
Bernd Heinrich - "Ravens are assumed to be the brains of the bird world"
Konrad Lorenz - "Ravens display the highest mental development"
]

Quotes are nice, but they're only opinion. Please cite the work and research was done to back those opinions up.

All told, I don't see how you can "rate Rooks and Crows to be much more intelegent than a Parrot" with the overwhelming amount of evidence seeming to indicate otherwise. I would say that the research findings all point to the contrary and that the article that spurred this whole discussion is in the right.

-Feren
"We use them for divine retribution."

Your rating: None

*sigh*

Please read what I actualy said. And the article in question again.

I dont dispute that Parots are smart. I do dispute they are the smartest, and give that distinction to Corvids and Ravens in particular.

I will point you to the many articles and books by Bernd Heinrich, _Ravens in Winter_ _Mind of the Raven_ and _Raven Consciousness_ a few examples. These detail various problem solving and high level social co-operation methods used by Ravens.

In reply to your note that doing a stunt to impress is just the same as offering food. This is not true. Offers of food are of imediated obvious gain to the other. While a visibal stunt offers no gain to the viewer. So such action is a sign of a level of thinking beyond imediate material gain.

You also propose a false dichotomy that since I can not disprove Parots to be smart, then I can not prove Ravens to be smarter. Please explain this asumption.

Your rating: None

[I do dispute they are the smartest, and give that distinction to Corvids and Ravens in particular.]

As I dispute your position in favor of the article's remarks on parrots.

[ will point you to the many articles and books by Bernd Heinrich, _Ravens in Winter_ _Mind of the Raven_ and _Raven Consciousness_ a few examples. These detail various problem solving and high level social co-operation methods used by Ravens.]

I'll be more than happy to read them -- I'm curious to see a biologist's take on what dictates intelligence. His book The Trees in My Forest was rather interesting.

[In reply to your note that doing a stunt to impress is just the same as offering food. ]

I never said that. Read what I said one more time. I quote:
[Ravens will do stunts to impress their flock, and share food with those they like.]

Again, that trait is not unique to the species in the least. Parrots regurgitate food for those they consider to be mates or under their care (a process that my neighbor discovered is highly flattering but also highly messy), cats bring mice back to their litters to help teach them hunting skills (as well as to provide gifts to their owners if they're indoor/outdoor cats), etc.

This was in answer to the later part of your statement which read "... share food with those they like." My point was: so do parrots.

I further said, I've seen horses introduced to the pasture run, prance and whinny in an attempt to impress their new paddock-mates. This was in response to where you said "Ravens will do stunts to impress their flock." My point again was that this is something that many other animals do, including parrots. I was addressing the two separate points raised by yourself, albeit out of turn with how you posed them. Not once did I say one was the same as the other. You have my apologies if the order of my reply caused you undue confusion.

The thrust of my response to your post -- not just that aspect but throughout -- was primarily that the criteria you used and remarked on as denoting a potentially more developed intelligence in ravens applies almost universally as well to parrots.

[Offers of food are of imediated obvious gain to the other. ]
I'm curious about what you mean by that. When I asked you to give me reasons why you feel a crow is more intelligent than a parrot, you responded with a numer of statements, including the fact that ravens share food with those they like. When I countered with the point that parrots also share food with mates/peers/etcetera you suddenly say that sharing food is about immediate material gain and stunts show "a level of thinking beyond imediate material gain." So now you're implying that sharing food doesn't mean anything and is a behavior of little importance? It seems that you're suddenly shifting your position on this.

[You also propose a false dichotomy that since I can not disprove Parots to be smart, then I can not prove Ravens to be smarter. Please explain this asumption.]

I work under no such dichotomy. Let's review: I asked for your reasoning behind the assertion that ravens were smarter than parrots. You responded with "how often have you seen a crow with its wings clipped and in a cage?" Since I didn't understand how the number of specimens in captivity reflected upon the intelligence of the animal in question (especially when such animals are available either wild-caught or hand-raised from an aviary, thus annulling the arguement that they're rare because the wild birds have avoided capture) I asked you to expound your point for me. In return you answered "its that Parots can use human like speech in their paterns that makes it *apear* that they can be more intelegent than other birds." I rebutted that there was plenty of sound research that has been done to prove otherwise, and that said research has shown rather well that parrots can go above and beyond simple mimicry to perform higher level cognitive functions -- including, but not limited to: arithmetic, object permanence and the ability to differentiate objects, colors and more on a level similar to that of two-year-old human child. Having thus rebutted I then cited the work of Dr. Pepperberg with Alex and included links to Dr. Pepperberg's foundation, her published methodologies and numerous articles that have been done over the years about her research. All that was given to provide you with the data I was basing my rebuttal on when I said that I believed you were incorrect in your primary argument that the level of intelligence in parrots was an illusion created by their ability to mimic human speech.

Also -- as noted above -- I pointed out that most if not all of the behaviors you cite to indicate higher corvid intelligence applies to parrots as well (with the notable exception of tool-making).

I wish to make something perfectly clear: I never said that you had to disprove my position on parrots. What I did ask was that you back up your position with something more solid than opinions and random observations. I'm willing to accept your opinion; I inquired about it out of personal curiousity. But I will not accept a blanket statement like that when it's backed by spurious reasoning such as "ravens are more intelligent than parrots because they share food / do stunts / aren't common pets." Those are purely subjective things. It's like saying cats are clearly more intelligent than dogs because cats can be trained to use a litter box and dogs have to use the outdoors or they soil the carpet. Think about it.

Is a raven intelligent? Undoubtedly. Is a parrot intelligent? Without question. Is one more intelligent than the other? That's difficult to tell and is pretty much a matter of opinion only. As of this time I'm aware of no studies that have been done where the cognitive skills of one species has been benchmarked by the same methodology that the other has in a controlled lab environment to give a decisive result.

-Feren
"We use them for divine retribution."

Your rating: None

[you answered "its that Parots can use human like speech in their paterns that makes it *apear* that they can be more intelegent than other birds." I rebutted that there was plenty of sound research that has been done to prove otherwise,]

You have selectivly quoted me there. You missed off "that also have complex 'language'." on the end of that sentece. What I said is that if you have a creature speaking a language in near human comprehension, and a creature with the same complexity of language speaking in a non-human comprehension, then people tend to see more intelegence in the human comprehensable language.

Ravens, incidently, do have a complex language of tone sounds.

On my 'shifting position' about gifts of food. I fail to see how a statment that one aspect of Ravens, ie 'Showing Stunts', demonstrates more intelegence than another part, ie 'Giving Food', shows a flaw in my thinking. I did not change my opinion about the behavious of ravens, or any values aplied to them.

[Also -- as noted above -- I pointed out that most if not all of the behaviors you cite to indicate higher corvid intelligence applies to parrots as well (with the notable exception of tool-making).]

This is the sticker point you see. (And I'll let go that you're ignoring the significance of 'stunts' again.)

If we agree that the fundimentals of intelegence are shared between parrots and ravens, then they must both be intelegent. But if Ravens use tools, and Parots do not then this means that Ravens use intelegence in *more* ways than Parots.

I stand by my original statment. Parots are very smart, but Ravens are that bit smarter that counts.

[As of this time I'm aware of no studies that have been done where the cognitive skills of one species has been benchmarked by the same methodology that the other has in a controlled lab environment to give a decisive result.]

This is a straw-man argument. We have previously agreed that observation of intelegence is almost totaly subjective. Thus there can be no way to compare two animals 'intelegences' objectivly.

I've said all I am qualified to say on the matter in defence of my opinion. I hold this opinion because I know of qualified people in the field who also hold this opinion.

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About the author

MelSkunk (Melissa Drake)read storiescontact (login required)

a student and Skunk from Toronto, ON, interested in writting, art, classic cars and animals