Field Frame Friday: A whole new meaning to being called a “bird-brain.”

While the idiom, “bird brain” may mean a silly or stupid person, we may want to reconsider it as a compliment. Turns out, African grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus) have more abstract logic than the average human toddler. When briefly shown the contents inside two canisters (walnuts or nothing) and then presented the parrots with the option to choose, they consistently chose the canister with walnuts. Not surprising? Parrots were then presented with two canisters, only this time, the canisters were shaken (one made noises and the other didn’t). Asked to choose again, and parrots consistently chose the canister that made noise over the one that didn’t, even though they didn’t know the contents inside. Still not convinced? In a final presentation of canisters, researchers put mini speakers on their wrists. They would shake each canister again, and sounds would emit from either the same wrist that was being shaken, or the opposite wrist. African grey parrots selected the canister when the sound lined up with the canister, indicating they can use logic of visual and auditory cues to identify location of food. African grey parrots are the only non-primate animal to complete these types of tasks, out-performing even three-year old humans!

Schloegl, C., Schmidt, J., Boeckle, M., Weiß, B. M., & Kotrschal, K. (2012). Grey parrots use inferential reasoning based on acoustic cues alone. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 279(1745), 4135-4142.

[Photo and caption by Karli Chudeau]

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