Thursday, July 11, 2013

intellectual strengths of birds; observation powers of people

The Guardian has carried a wonderful report on the capacity of cockatoos to solve complex puzzles. Screen shot inserted here to entice you.


I offered the following comment:
If you consider the intricacy plus force involved in extracting pine nuts you get the idea of everyday cockatoo life. Some Australian cockatoos seem very keen on lemon seeds, trashing the fruit. A particular generation of fancy tall street lights in Canberra were swiftly unlatched either for fun or for the rubber seal.
I think we underestimate or often just fail to see the extraordinary daily tasks of wild birds to eat. After a week of heavy winter rain in my southeast Australian garden recently the smallest birds are not seen, many perhaps not survived as seemed the case after fierce summer heat this year. The Eastern Spinebills frantically flitting for surely dilute nectar in scant quantities from downward facing flowers on flopping branches of Chinese lantern bushes, Abutela? Not a multistep puzzle but requiring flight, balance, twist and persistence generally invisible to and beyond gym-oriented Homo urbis. The satin bowerbirds came after the rain eased, out of the forest to grab whatever looked tasty in the garden.
Ordinary bird life is hard, complex and necessarily involves innovative braininess just to be alive. Big birds like cockatoos have the advantage of size and surface to volume ratios that mean they are less vulnerable to environmental stresses. Which means they have time on their hands to do research and innovate; the connection between time on hands and outcomes of an interesting kind deserves research!
Don't forget in review of larger bird cleverness the kites in northern Australia, alongside indigenous people when they use fire to hunt and produce preferred food bearing landscape. Some kites (bigger corvids) pick up burning sticks and carry fire to new fronts to drive out prey for them. Intelligence, observation, memory, participation, bravery, imagination, craftiness... I think a lot of human judgement about so called dumb animals arises from our own failure to note what is around us all the time.
.... But after reading your report, I'm not walking down my cockatoo infested streets looking like that dude in shades, and definitely not while carrying my Rubik's cube!

I choose not to place google ads on my blogs and web pages. But like most, The Guardian derives revenue from such. I note that in this cockatoo intelligence story, the google ads were these below, on the day when I looked and living where I live. You will get different.

I wonder if it's cockatoos or people that are being trained to do 'monkey tasks' (dear monkeys I apologise for the term, which is meaningful, I know, only within a prejudiced, narrow Homo 'sapiens' kind of vernacular, otherwise I'd have to say something longer, like "trained to do artificial and life-sapping researcher phony tasks like domesticated cockies get to do in the post-industrial age of subdivided and subdivided focus for doctoral students").

And where I wrote in that comment that: "...the connection between time on hands and outcomes of an interesting kind deserves research..." I don't think time on hands includes time at computer. Must run... rain stopped outside activity for a week or so here, as did pleurisy.


But time on hands, for cockatoos? ....  I suddenly realise and run back to add this.

I suppose domesticated cockatoos, which the researchers assert to be smarter than wild cockatoos, have more time in their hands, and are waited on, fed, cleaned-up after. Life of some human children.

Whereas the big cockatoos and their close relatives in the wild,  in the morning after a cold and wet night, do not have to run hunt food like little birds, are not trapped at their research desks or perches with humans sharing their wisdom***, but fly free to find a powerline to sit on or swing around on in the sun, to natter, kiss and fiddle with each other.

Now who's smart in that comparison?

*** I knew one 'domesticated' cockatoo, intellect enriched by human company, who used to respond to the doorbell by shouting "bugger off, there's no one home!" ...  Indeed.

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