Problem solving Kiwi parrots reported in New Scientist 14 August 2010, p18 and Animal Cognition online doi: 10.1007/s10071-010-0342-9.

Kea parrots are a New Zealand bird with a well-earned reputation as aggressive inquisitive thieves. A group of scientists led by Hiromitsu Miyata of Kyoto University trained Keas to obtain food by removing a metal rod from a Plexiglas lid on a box containing food. They then tested the ability of Kea parrots to open boxes secured with multiple bolts. The parrots proved able to open boxes secured with up to three bolts.

The researchers then set a more difficult task – securing the box by two interlocking bolts that had to be released in the correct order. The birds rose to the challenge and opened the box. It has always been assumed that animals and birds learned such tasks by trial and error but the researchers found “the keas corrected (any) inappropriate responses more quickly when they had a chance to preview the problems than when they had not.”

They went on to say: “The results suggest that the keas primarily used explorative strategies in solving the lock problems but might have obtained some information about the tasks before starting to solve them. This may reflect a good compromise of keas’ trial-and-error tendency and their good cognitive ability that result from a selection pressure they have faced in their natural habitat.”

Editorial Comment: This study follows several bird behaviour studies that indicate the term “bird brain” should no longer be used to describe someone as a fool. Birds do have small brains, but it seems they are wired differently than mammal brains, and small does not equal stupid.

However, the explanation that “good cognitive ability”, i.e. being smart, is the result of “selection pressure in their natural habitat” is not a smart human conclusion. Selection can eliminate individuals that are not smart enough to survive, but it cannot add any brain cells or circuits to make even a ‘bird brain’ any smarter. Parrots have survived in natural and unnatural habitats because they already had good brains, given to them by their Creator.

Evidence News 25 August 2010