In that sense, dogs are brilliant because there are way more dogs in the world than there are wolves. Elephants do too. They start using the mirror as a tool like we do to look in their eyes, to look at the insides of their mouths, parts of their body they can't see without a mirror.
They look at their genitals, like little kids do. So which is the smartest? You could say this animal is way better at problem solving than this animal. Maybe we're just stuck looking at intelligence in certain ways. Related on MNN:. Well done, Rio, lovely flying today. It's called a "string-pull" test. Rio's favorite food, a peanut, is dangling on a string. He'll have to pull the string up to get the peanut. Rio has not been trained to do this.
In fact, he's never seen this puzzle before, and it isn't a skill a parrot normally needs. If it can figure out what to do, that implies these birds have the ability to visualize a puzzle, to visualize a physical action, and then to foresee the consequences of that action.
At first, he's not interested. But after a few minutes, and a little encouragement, he figures out what to do. And once he's figured it out, he can repeat it without trial and error. It has worked out the mechanics and the process beforehand. And that's not something we used to think birds really did much of. In the s, the Austrian zoologist Konrad Lorenz conducted some of the earliest studies on the lives of birds.
Working with geese, he saw that they learn from the moment they're born. It's called imprinting: they follow the actions of the first thing they see, which is usually their mother.
But Lorenz showed that even this most basic instinctive behavior can be learned in a new way. These geese imprinted on him. In one set of observations, he discovered that a goose sitting on a nest reacts immediately if an egg rolls away. She brings it back to the clutch. It looks like an intelligent action, but if the egg is removed, she still continues the movement. Her brain is responding instinctively to a simple trigger.
Even when the egg is replaced with a cube, she brings it back into the nest. The bird isn't consciously thinking through the consequences of its actions. And they're controlled right by feedback from the feathers to the spinal cord and control how the wings are then moved to, to change flight, without thinking about it at all.
This spectacle seems like it would require high levels of intelligence, but it's mainly instinctive. So, is everything a bird does ruled by instinct? Or do they have what we would consider intelligence? Meet Bran, a hand-reared young raven, and his owner, bird trainer Lloyd Buck.
We've had him since he was about 10 days old, so he's what you call "complete social imprint" on humans, but he's particularly bonded with me. We share a very, very close bond.
Here's one he tried a few months ago, in Bran's aviary, where there's a birdbath. A piece of food is trapped inside a plastic bottle that's been crushed. First, Bran adds water. That alone doesn't free the food, so he swishes it around so that liquid carries the food out of the bottle top. He just gave him the challenge and let him figure it out on his own. LLOYD BUCK: So, we've presented him with that problem, and through his own intelligence and problem-solving abilities, he worked out to use his own water, what he had around him, to his advantage, which I think shows a lot of intelligence.
Ravens are part of the crow family. Crows live almost everywhere on Earth, with an average lifespan of 10 to 15 years. They have a starring role in many classic myths as cunning animals who bring bad luck. Parrots, on the other hand, have been loved as pets by humans for thousands of years.
They also thrive in many different environments, and they can live to be 80 years old. Their long life span gives them plenty of opportunity to learn new things, and that may be one reason why they seem so smart. At the Haidlhof Research Station, near Vienna, scientists are studying the intelligence of many kinds of crows and parrots.
This is John, and he'll be trying a much harder string-pull test. First, peanut butter is hidden in a small tube and tied to the end of a string. Right away, this is a more complex challenge, because the treat is out of sight, instead of hanging right in front of him.
To complicate things further, now there are two strings, but the second one just has a stick on the end. John goes straight to the correct string where the reward hangs, directly below him. Next, the two strings are crossed. So now, the reward is no longer directly below the attachment to the right string, and John has to decide which string to pull. So it implies an additional layer of processing. Most of the kea parrots who try this puzzle need some practice, but even with the rewards and strings swapped around, they learn to pull the right one most of the time.
And that's a real key, they're able to plan this out mentally, work out the steps, and employ it correctly when they see the task. NARRATOR: Compared to other birds, parrots and crows have large brains in relation to their body size, and scientists believe that may be one reason why they can work out solutions to problems they don't encounter in the wild. Most bird brains are small, but they have one critical area in common with humans and other animals with higher intelligence.
And that's the part that really allows them to make plans and strategies and organize ideas to use to, to act upon things that will happen in the future.
And this is an interesting thing that we've learned recently, that bird brains actually pack a lot more neurons into a particular area than do mammal brains. So, even though they're physically very small in size, they, they have a lot of punch in that size.
In their natural habitat, the highest mountains of New Zealand, food is scarce. Sometimes kea parrots can strip berries from shrubs and bushes; other times they have to search for insects. They only find enough to eat by being adaptable, and that has an impact on their brains.
So, they're basically building a strong brain by having to explore this complex and variable environment. And they're fascinating to watch.
Because they evolved on New Zealand, where they had few predators, these birds don't seem afraid of anything. Until humans arrived, there was little to threaten them. They could explore whatever they wanted and still do. This is very different from the other super-brains of the bird world. Ravens and the rest of the crow family live alongside big predators. Like kea parrots, they must find food wherever they can, even if they have to steal it.
But wolves and coyotes are dangerous, so crows and ravens have to be cautious. It's a good strategy. It keeps you out of trouble. It pays to be wary, but crows are famously wary. Auguste von Bayern works with New Caledonian crows, considered to be one of the most intelligent bird species. This is Wek. She's wearing a collar, because she recently lost her mate—crows mate for life—and Wek started pulling out her feathers when her partner died.
She's been raised by humans since infancy. In all tests she's participated, she was one of the best birds, and yeah, she seems to be clever and enjoys to work in our experiments. Wek represents the crows, and for the kea parrots, this is Kermit. Their reward? A peanut. Their challenge is called a "multi-access box. And the special thing is that it can be accessed in four different ways.
So, there are four different solutions to get the food out of that box. NARRATOR: The birds can pull the string to get the peanut out through the hole, drop a ball down a chute to dislodge it, prod the nut with a stick or open the door and reach inside. And it's very interesting to see how species differ in the way they approach a problem and the way they explore that box. Then the researchers take that solution away, to see what they'll do next.
Wek uses the stick to poke the nut free, but this isn't a surprise. They obtain a lot of their diet by using tools. But Kermit figures out a solution with the ball and chute. Again, the researchers remove the option that's been used. For Wek, the hole for the stick is taped over. Wek has to try something else, so she tries the ball and chute.
With two choices left, Kermit just opens the door, reaches inside and takes the peanut. But Wek won't take this approach. They're extremely vulnerable if they do that, and to stick their head inside that box, it could trap them in it. Kermit's last option is the stick. His curved beak makes it very hard to hold, but he still sees this as a potential solution, even though it's not easy. Both birds found four different solutions to the puzzle, showing they're able to think flexibly.
So, rather than having this set response to a stimulus every time, as Lorenz worked upon, now you've got a whole battery of responses that could be put into play, and now it's a mental task to sort among which ones are best for a given situation. Like humans, birds seem to learn new things by playing. They are not only interested in new things but are also quite daring. They have a notorious urge to explore everything they see, and they want to play and explore the physical effects and consequences of their actions.
NARRATOR: Researchers noticed that kea parrots often try to put one object inside another, so they give them a related challenge: a selection of tubes, fixed to the floor. The younger birds are fascinated, trying to put the toys into the tubes.
There's no food reward, just curiosity. And they seem to get better at learning which toys fit which tubes. Can they take this new knowledge and apply it in a different situation? A peanut stuck in a tube is a new problem to solve. The younger birds approach it first. This one studies the problem from all angles. She picks up a block but seems to know that it's too big. She then selects the one block that fits the tube.
Only the birds that played with the tubes and toys can solve this on their own. That these are not just instinctive behaviors, that they're learning new things and that they're able to transfer this knowledge.
The reward is in plain sight, but the tube is too long, and the food can't be reached. The catch can be released by dropping a stone onto it.
To do that, Wek is going to have to figure out how the catch works. The researchers replace the long tube with a shorter one. Now Wek can reach the catch, and she quickly learns how to open it with her beak. That's what crows typically do, is bite or peck or probe with their beaks. So they learn the relationship: to get food that lever needs to be tripped. Wek realizes that she can release the catch by dropping the stone on it. And using a stone to get food in this way is not something a crow would normally do in the wild.
CHRISTINA RIEHL: The fact that the crow is able to take a stone and move the same object that that bird had previously moved with its bill, implies that the crow is thinking ahead and visualizing the action: that dropping the stone will result in the same movement that its bill did. At the Max Planck Institute, in Germany, the researcher sets up a puzzle to see if a crow can understand how to get a reward by pulling on a hook.
Two hooks are covered by a plastic sheet. Only one of them contains a small white container with food. This crow seems to get it right away, but was it a lucky guess? Or was she using knowledge that comes from her natural environment? New Caledonian crows are the only species of bird that's been observed to use hook tools in the wild. They'll shove that down a hole and a grub will either grab onto it, or they'll actually skewer the grub.
They make hooks that turn to the left or to the right. They use them appropriately. CHRISTINA RIEHL: What's interesting here is that it seems like they are able to bring this skill that they use in the wild, normally, into a lab setting that's completely unlike the environment that they normally use it in, to a hook that isn't one that they've made themselves, that in fact looks nothing like the hooks they make themselves, but it's still hook-shaped. And they clearly understand the repercussions of that hook shape.
NARRATOR: Crows are not only good at solving problems, they're also good at negotiating complex sets of relationships, because they live in large groups. Many scientists believe that forming social relationships within big groups helps drive the intelligence of animals like chimps and dolphins.
Can this also be true for birds? You have to remember alliances. You have to remember friendships.
You have to remember friendships. New research shows just how clever they can be. And what's more amazing, even though the team never again caught crows with the mask on, that reaction has been passed down through several generations. No one bird can lift the lid off the food box by itself, but if one bird sits on the other end of the seesaw, the lid rises and the rest get to feed.
For those that try to wait, five minutes is a long time with a chocolate right in front of them. So the question was would they remember that the masked man was a threat? Now, he's been taught that green is higher than yellow, and that yellow, in turn, is higher than purple. Because they evolved on New Zealand, where they had few predators, these birds don't seem afraid of anything. She's been raised by humans since infancy. In the experiment, green is higher than yellow, so under the green card is a treat.
But now it's become harder and harder to ignore the evidence that birds are capable of solving problems, of making friendships, of learning, of putting themselves into the experiences of other animals. It has worked out the mechanics and the process beforehand.
But after a few minutes, and a little encouragement, he figures out what to do. New research shows just how clever they can be. This one studies the problem from all angles. But we know that birds get upset. And the special thing is that it can be accessed in four different ways.
Sometimes Rumo drops the bread, perhaps as a way to make waiting easier. And this is an interesting thing that we've learned recently, that bird brains actually pack a lot more neurons into a particular area than do mammal brains.