Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Bird IQ Test Takes Flight

Date:
February 24, 2005
Source:
Natural Sciences And Engineering Research Council
Summary:
How smart is your parakeet or that crow in the back yard? Ask Dr. Louis Lefebvre, inventor of the world's only comprehensive avian IQ index. His intelligence index is not only separating the featherweights from the big bird brains, it's also providing clues about why some birds make great immigrants, as well as insight into the parallel evolution of primate and bird brains.

How smart is your parakeet or that crow in the back yard? Ask Dr. Louis Lefebvre, inventor of the world's only comprehensive avian IQ index. His intelligence index is not only separating the featherweights from the big bird brains, it's also providing clues about why some birds make great immigrants, as well as insight into the parallel evolution of primate and bird brains.

The smarts pecking order is based not on a single bird-in-cage test, but on 2,000 reports of feeding innovations that have been observed in the wild and published in the world's ornithology journals.

"Initially, quite honestly, I didn't think it would work," says Dr. Lefebvre, an animal behaviourist at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, who first reported the bird bell curve system in 1997. "Scientists don't like anecdotal evidence. So if you're wary of one anecdote, why would you expect to find a valid pattern in 2,000? I've been waiting for something to come up that would invalidate the system, but nothing has."

The biologist, whose work is supported by Science and Engineering Research Canada (NSERC), will present his latest findings at the 2005 American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Washington D.C. on February 21.

The IQ index draws its strength from the world's legions of avid bird watchers. Professional and amateur birders alike report unusual sightings to refereed ornithology journals, such as the Wilson Bulletin in the U.S. and British Birds. These observations are published as "short notes." Dr. Lefebvre's innovation index uses short notes from 1930 to the present as the basis for counting the number of innovative feeding behaviours observed in the wild for particular groups of birds.

These bird-brained feeding feats are definitely clever. One of the most famous is the 1949 report of tits in England who learned to open milk bottles left on the stoop. Or there's the brown skua, an Antarctic bird that parasitizes nursing mother seals by angling in on drops of breast milk. One of Dr. Lefebvre's favourites is the report from a front-line soldier cum bird watcher during the Rhodesian war of liberation. The soldier reported observing vultures who'd learned to wait beside mine fields for an unsuspecting gazelle to get blown into a meal.

Dr. Lefebvre says that the IQ index meticulously avoids the factor that gets feathers ruffled with human IQ tests: cultural bias. The index statistically takes into account differences in the number of observations for commonly seen birds, such as crows, and rare isolated sightings. Even then, he says, there's a clear hierarchy for bird innovation ability. The crow and falcon families are at the top of the class, followed by hawks, woodpeckers and herons.

In 2002, the feeding innovation index methodology gained a higher scientific perch when it was successfully extended to primates by British researchers Dr. Simon Reader and Dr. Kevin Laland at Cambridge University.

The result, says Dr. Lefebvre, demonstrates links between the evolution of innovation-related brain structures in birds and primates. In both groups, greater feeding innovation, tool use and speed of learning are related to larger forebrains – the neocortex in primates and other mammals and the mesopallium-nidopallium complex in birds.

"So it all seems to provide a picture of convergent evolution. Similar solutions to brain-cognition organization seem to have evolved in the two groups, whose ancestors diverged more than 300 million years ago," he says.

And, says Dr. Lefebvre, the latest research by his former postdoctoral student Dr. Daniel Sol shows that those birds with greater "behavioural flexibility" do indeed rise to the top when it's a difference between life and death. Analysis of dozens of attempts to introduce bird species around the world reveals that species which were more innovative on their home turf were much more successful in taking up roost in new environments.

Says Dr. Lefebvre: "This data on bird introductions is at the moment the only good evidence we have for the fact that big brains and innovative behaviour make a life and death difference and therefore that they could have been selected for in evolution."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Natural Sciences And Engineering Research Council. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Natural Sciences And Engineering Research Council. "Bird IQ Test Takes Flight." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 February 2005. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/02/050223163906.htm>.
Natural Sciences And Engineering Research Council. (2005, February 24). Bird IQ Test Takes Flight. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 29, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/02/050223163906.htm
Natural Sciences And Engineering Research Council. "Bird IQ Test Takes Flight." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/02/050223163906.htm (accessed July 29, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Deadly Ebola Virus Threatens West Africa

Deadly Ebola Virus Threatens West Africa

AP (July 28, 2014) West African nations and international health organizations are working to contain the largest Ebola outbreak in history. It's one of the deadliest diseases known to man, but the CDC says it's unlikely to spread in the U.S. (July 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Traditional African Dishes Teach Healthy Eating

Traditional African Dishes Teach Healthy Eating

AP (July 28, 2014) Classes are being offered nationwide to encourage African Americans to learn about cooking fresh foods based on traditional African cuisine. The program is trying to combat obesity, heart disease and other ailments often linked to diet. (July 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Asteroid's Timing Was 'Colossal Bad Luck' For The Dinosaurs

Asteroid's Timing Was 'Colossal Bad Luck' For The Dinosaurs

Newsy (July 28, 2014) The asteroid that killed the dinosaurs struck at the worst time for them. A new study says that if it hit earlier or later, they might've survived. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge from Nest

Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge from Nest

AP (July 27, 2014) A live-streaming webcam catches loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings emerging from a nest in the Florida Keys. (July 27) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins