QuickiesScience

Skepchick Quickies 9.18

Amanda

Amanda is a science grad student in Boston whose favorite pastimes are having friendly debates and running amok.

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38 Comments

  1. The Native Americans knew all about the intelligence of corvids. If you are lucky enough to live in an area where crows and ravens are plentiful, you can verify this easily by observation. They have been seen and filmed using tools (grass stems to get at food, for example). They are also gifted thieves.

  2. Yeah, I’m typically on the monkey side in the Great Monkey vs. Bird Struggle, but I admit a soft spot for corvids. The Crow was one of my favorite movies as a kid, and I have always found crows fascinating, especially now that so many studies on New Caledonian crows show how smart they are.

    If it weren’t a bad idea for a lot of manifest reasons, I’d love to have a raven for a pet. I spent a good amount of time watching the ravens when I was in the Tower of London (as a visitor, not a prisoner. I couldn’t see them when I was locked up!), and they really are freakin’ cool birds. And while monkeys are probably still “smarter”, the results of this latest test just confirm that intelligence is around in a lot of different creatures in a lot of different ways!

  3. Crows are definitely wicked smaht.

    I’ve seen those “can the chimp get the apple out of the tube” tests before. I empathize with those chimps every time I have to do something mechanical. So crows are probably smarter than me, too. :)

  4. “And while monkeys are probably still “smarter”, the results of this latest test just confirm that intelligence is around in a lot of different creatures in a lot of different ways!”

    Exactly how I see it. I see animal intelligence as a matter of degree , not kind , if that makes any sense. I’ve observed enough animal behavior to see that.

    I do wonder just what the corvids would do if they had hands more like simians and apes…

  5. Hooray! I got credit for something! BTW, now that I found the ‘submit article’ link, I’ll stop hijacking Quickies threads with unrelated material. Other threads are still fair game though.

    I fail to glean anything meaningful from that “men=picky” article. It’s difficult to finish a sentence without becoming confused. Then again, it’s early in the morning here and I’m groggy, and I’m kind of stupid to begin with. Incidentally, that article is a good example of one of the wonderful things about being homosexual: you can ignore all that ‘genetics’ crap. Take THAT, evolutionary biology!

  6. …as far as that men going for chicks out of their league thing, I think what the story MEANT to convey was that men might as well just push the limit and see what they could get, while women had to be a little more pragmatic, maybe picking a more stable/stick-around/etc. guy than some drunk hottie at a bar with an undisclosed mental illness profile…

    in the grand scheme of things, the man should worry about what kind of woman is carrying his spawn as much as the woman should worry about what kind of man knocks her up, but since a guy can technically impregnate thousands of women a year and a woman can only give birth once a year (and there’s that whole pregnancy/ breastfeeding/ being the mom thing), I guess the article is saying that men have a “go for it!” kind of thing working, while women have a more “is this the right one?” kind of thing.

    Doesn’t seem like it’s saying men are pickier…just kind of more reckless?

  7. I wonder if the intelligence of crows (and corvids in general) relates to a “higher-level” of evolvability I’ve seen mentioned in some books. Corvids are generalists, their problem solving ability relates to their many different ways of getting food, as opposed to a specialist (hummingbirds, for example). I wonder if their avian thinking skills have/had acted in a sort of self-reinforcing way, not just becoming smarter, but also better at learning new tricks/methods to get food. A sort of practical bird-critical thinking. Like say, would crows who learned to get grubs with sticks also pick up how to crack nuts in crosswalks like the Japanese crows do, and vice-versa, or is that a more culturally passed trait?

    It also endears me to crows even more (shot of Old Crow bourbon, anyone?) for corvids as skeptical symbol — oft harrassed, maligned and misunderstood, but too clever to be done away with :)
    (though ravens didn’t survive all the human attempts to eradicate them nearly as well — I’ve never seen a raven in real life :( ).

  8. Well, now you’ve hit upon a subject that it is close to my heart and for which I have some first-hand experience – the intelligence of birds.

    First off, I have an African Grey (for 10 years now). I think that in the process of going too far out of our way to not anthropomophize animals, we fail to appreciate stuff like this. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alex_(parrot)

    Second, I used to live in Portland, which is “infested” with crows. In Oregon, you cannot pump your own gas, and one day, I was sitting in my car as the attendant sitting in his glass cubicle put his Wendy’s burger back in his bag and walked out to fill my tank. While doing so, I watched a crow walk into the cubicle, jump up onto the desk, knock the bag onto the floor, and drag the bag out of the cubicle and behind the station.

  9. @Amanda: I am embarrassed to admit that I take my African Grey out for a walk every morning – everybody in my complex knows her by name (“Dorian”), and she dances when they wave at her. The kids love her. But parrots are not good pets for most people, and alot of it has to do with intelligence – if a parrot like her is not constantly stimulated by attention, puzzle toys, and the like, she will go neurotic and start mutiliating herself. Unfortunately, the fate of a lot of parrots is not pleasant.

  10. Hi SkepticalMale,

    I’m very familiar with Alex and with the African Grey parrot. It seems that the term “birdbrain” should no longer be used as a perjorative! I was fascinated by Alex’s abilities and grieved when he passed. (No dead parrot jokes, please!)

    The crow that you observed performed some very impressive mental gymnastics – at least at the level of a well-trained dog, possibly better. It knew that an object put into a bag still exists and is accessible. That in itself is impressive. Then it figured out how to get to it and to hide afterwards, so as not to be caught with “the goods.” Some dogs aren’t that smart, nor are some toddlers.

    If I were younger, I might consider taking on an African Grey as a companion, but I’m certain that at this stage of my life, it would outlive me. Not to mention my Shelties might get jealous. ;-)

  11. I, for one, cannot wait for “Planet of the Crows”.

    “Get your feathers off me, you damned, dirty corvid,” doesn’t have quite as good a ring as the original, I’ll grant you – but the interspecies love story shoukld be freaky-deaky.

  12. We watched a video of a crow stealing the catch off ice-fishing lures in an animal behaviour class one time (probably about 8 years ago now). They’d step on the top of the line with one claw and raise the dangling line with the other. Then they’d step on what they pulled up, and so on, until the whole line was up. On the same video they showed birds testing lines for fish by tugging on them before going through the effort of pulling the whole line up. It was incredible.

    Well, monkeys…the ball’s in your court.

  13. @QuestionAuthority: Dorian is apprehensive of everybody and everything at first … She meows if she’s around a cat long enough … She doesn’t bark … The hummingbirds like to check her out when we are outside and she often mimicks the “chirping” sounds they make.

    Another interesting aspect I have always wanted to explore, in terms of evolutionary biology: Some people who work with varieties of parrots (including me, in my biased limited experience caring for various types) have made the observation that African parrots are “smarter” (cognitively) than their counterparts in other continents. (For example, African Greys are widely considered the “smartest” of all parrots.) Could that be the case? And why would that be the case? My own theory is that food is somewhat scarcer in equatorial Africa than the jungles of South/Central America or Asia, but that theory breaks down with respect to Australia. Any evolutionary biologists who could offer a theory?

  14. @Blake Stacey: I’d bet on it. They’ll accuse you of raising a little pagan heathen. Good work! LOL
    I used to live in the Bible Belt, too. It got very irritating at times.

    T’was a Norweigan Blue because it was an African Grey that t’was too bloody cold, Mate!

  15. @Kimbo Jones:

    Well, monkeys…the ball’s in your court.

    Hey, don’t high-hat the monkey …

    As for that pop-psychology article, could someone explain to me what the contradiction is supposed to be? Because I just don’t see it. Where exactly does it say men are picky (or at least pickier than women)? Did everyone read a different article than I did?

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