Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Smarter than you think

Elections and election-blogging has been pretty tiring, so here's a little change of pace. The NYTimes caught my attention with this one: "Minds of Their Own: Birds Gain Respect."

Birds fascinate me, and I was glad to hear that they are smarter than most people give them credit for. Here are some choice bits from the article that I found interesting:

In a laboratory, when a crow named Betty was given metal wires of various lengths and a four-inch vertical pipe with food at the bottom, she chose a four-inch wire, made a hook and retrieved the food.

Clark nutcrackers can hide up to 30,000 seeds and recover them up to six months later.

Nutcrackers also hide and steal. If they see another bird watching them as they cache food, they return later, alone, to hide the food again.

Magpies, at an earlier age than any other creature tested, develop an understanding of the fact that when an object disappears behind a curtain, it has not vanished.

At a university campus in Japan, carrion crows line up patiently at the curb waiting for a traffic light to turn red. When cars stop, they hop into the crosswalk, place walnuts from nearby trees onto the road and hop back to the curb. After the light changes and cars run over the nuts, the crows wait until it is safe and hop back out for the food.

Pigeons can memorize up to 725 different visual patterns, and are capable of what looks like deception. Pigeons will pretend to have found a food source, lead other birds to it and then sneak back to the true source.

Maybe I'm just a dork, but that's pretty cool.

One more thing on this topic; if you haven't seen the film Winged Migration, I highly recommend it. The narrator is French, so mute it if you have to, but the photography and the birds are amazing.