A few years ago, a Sydney scientist at the Australian Museum noticed that a sulphur crested cockatoo had opened his trash can. Not every resident will be excited, but the ornithologist Richard Major was impressed by this ingenuity.
For a bird, grabbing the flip lid of the trash can with its beak, prying it open, and then moving far enough along the edge of the container to make the lid fall backwards, revealing the edible treasures inside, which is an amazing Feat.
Out of curiosity, Major collaborated with researchers in Germany to study how many cockatoos learned this technique.
In early 2018, they found through a survey of residents that birds in the three suburbs of Sydney have mastered foraging technology. By the end of 2019, birds had raised trash bins in 44 suburbs.
Major said: “The increase from three suburbs to 44 suburbs in two years is very fast.”
The next question for the researchers is whether the cockatoos have figured out how to do this on their own – or whether they have copied this strategy from more experienced birds.
Their research, published in the journal Science on Thursday, concluded that these birds learn mainly by observing their peers.
“This spread is not just random. It starts in the southern suburbs and radiates outward,” Major said.
Scientists have documented other examples of social learning in birds. A classic case involves a small bird called the blue tit. They have learned to pierce the aluminum foil cap of a milk bottle in the United Kingdom since the 1920s. This is a cunning move, but it is much simpler than opening a trash can, and it is physically demanding. The requirements are much lower.
However, Lucy Aplin, a cognitive ecologist at the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behavior in Germany and a co-author of the study, said that real-time observation of new “cultural trends” spreading in the wild or in the suburbs provides cockatoo researchers with A special opportunity. learn.
“This is a scientist’s dream,” she said.
In the summer of 2019, the garbage collection day in the suburbs of Sydney is the team’s research day.
As garbage trucks rolled off their route and people took their garbage bins to the sidewalk, Barbara Klump, a behavioral ecologist at the Max Planck Institute, drove down the street and stopped to record The condition of the cockatoo falling on the dustbin. Not all cockatoos can successfully open them, but she managed to shoot about 160 successful bird videos.
After analyzing the footage, Krump realized that most of the birds that opened the litter box were males, and they were often larger than females. Birds who master this skill also tend to dominate the social hierarchy.
“This shows that if you are more socially connected, you have more opportunities to observe and acquire new behavior-and spread it,” she said.
New research shows that the behavior of parrots flipping the lid of the trash can is much more important than initially imagined-beware of these smart parrots!@DrBarbaraKlump @LucyMAPlin @Wingtags @wild_sonja @NoisyMajor @CBhav @MPI_animalbehav @tarongazoo @austmus https://t.co/nVerByvQT7
-AMRI (@AustmusResearch) July 22, 2021
Cockatoos are very gregarious birds. They feed in groups and roost in large groups. They are rarely seen alone in Sydney. Although the number of many animals has decreased with the expansion of Australian cities, these bold and gorgeous birds generally thrive.
Isabelle Laumer, a behavioral researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was not involved in the study, said: “In an environment that is unpredictable, fast-changing, and unpredictable food sources, opportunistic animals will thrive.”
In the past 10 years, research has shown that “urban adaptability is related to characteristics such as innovation, behavioral flexibility, and exploratory nature,” said Aplin of the Max Planck Institute. What new research adds to this understanding is that organisms that easily spread knowledge and new skills in society also have advantages.
Parrots-including cockatoos-are one of the smartest birds. Irene Pepperberg, an animal cognition researcher at Harvard University, said their brains are only the size of walnuts, but the density of neurons in their forebrain gives many species cognitive abilities similar to those of great apes. Did not participate in the new paper.
She said that although African grey parrots are known for their ability to imitate and sometimes understand human language, parrots are good at using and manipulating new tools, such as puzzle boxes in the laboratory or lids of trash cans in the wild.
“Everyone in Sydney has their own opinion of cockatoos,” said the major of the Australian Museum.
“Whether you like to see these gorgeous large social birds or think that they are pests, you must respect them. They are very adaptable to living with humans and to their domination of the environment.”