Crows have their own version of the human cerebral cortex.
Action-packed pallia<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ0NzkyMS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNzk1NzM1OH0.Tjb3zulFW2gwhteR124F9HGbmdnCqNqQFOBQouieTJ8/img.png?width=980" id="2bbc9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2907e4035e553565f4446e968ee73d92" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Fun with Ozzie and Glenn<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ0Njk2MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMzY4Njc2MX0.ZgpsPMCK6qOj2o0kErvVPjdua1EnMCIwCuHHGrb3LiY/img.jpg?width=980" id="acbeb" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2e286fecbb228a5ca8aa26fcd19f95a2" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="two crows in a tree" />
Ozzie and Glenn not pictured
Credit: narubono/Unsplash<p>The kind of higher intelligence crows exhibited in the new research is similar to the way we solve problems. We catalog relevant knowledge and then explore different combinations of what we know to arrive at an action or solution.</p><p>The researchers, led by neurobiologist <a href="https://homepages.uni-tuebingen.de/andreas.nieder/" target="_blank">Andreas Nieder</a> of the University of Tübingen in Germany, trained two carrion crows (<em>Corvus corone</em>), Ozzie and Glenn.</p><p>The crows were trained to watch for a flash — which didn't always appear — and then peck at a red or blue target to register whether or not a flash of light was seen. Ozzie and Glenn were also taught to understand a changing "rule key" that specified whether red or blue signified the presence of a flash with the other color signifying that no flash occurred.</p><p>In each round of a test, after a flash did or didn't appear, the crows were presented a rule key describing the current meaning of the red and blue targets, after which they pecked their response.</p><p>This sequence prevented the crows from simply rehearsing their response on auto-pilot, so to speak. In each test, they had to take the entire process from the top, seeing a flash or no flash, and then figuring out which target to peck.</p><p>As all this occurred, the researchers monitored their neuronal activity. When Ozzie or Glenn saw a flash, sensory neurons fired and then stopped as the bird worked out which target to peck. When there was no flash, no firing of the sensory neurons was observed before the crow paused to figure out the correct target.</p><p>Nieder's interpretation of this sequence is that Ozzie or Glenn had to see or not see a flash, deliberately note that there had or hadn't been a flash — exhibiting self-awareness of what had just been experienced — and then, in a few moments, connect that recollection to their knowledge of the current rule key before pecking the correct target.</p><p>During those few moments after the sensory neuron activity had died down, Nieder reported activity among a large population of neurons as the crows put the pieces together preparing to report what they'd seen. Among the busy areas in the crows' brains during this phase of the sequence was, not surprisingly, the pallium.</p><p>Overall, the study may eliminate the layered cerebral cortex as a requirement for higher intelligence. As we learn more about the intelligence of crows, we can at least say with some certainty that it would be wise to avoid <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/26/science/26crow.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">angering one</a>.</p>
Acorn woodpecker battles over prized territory are serious business.
- Acorn woodpeckers are highly socialized birds who are, let's say, unusual.
- Small teams of acorn woodpeckers battle for days over coveted territory.
- Up to 30 spectators attend the battles, leaving their own territories unattended to do so.
Acorn woodpeckers<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzgwMDAzMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2NDc1ODExN30.A2m8gTkzBndTUjghwOh6Rc2NWwTXMjkMo7jH9eezq1k/img.jpg?width=980" id="9b2f8" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="7093a92289c1e00f38e76504ad3dc596" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="acorn woodpecker" />
Credit: Ondrej Prosicky/Shutterstock<p>Much of what's known about these birds, including the new research, comes from a long-running project at the <a href="http://hastingsreserve.org" target="_blank">Hastings Natural History Reservation</a> in California's Monterey Country. Acorn woodpeckers first arrived at the sanctuary in 1968 and have been under observation since 1974. The birds are common in the oak woodlands of western North America.</p><p>Acorn woodpeckers have a <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polygynandry" target="_blank">polygynandrous</a> mating system, something that's rarely seen in nature. A group will consist of as many as seven co-breeding males and four joint-nesting females. Breeding members of the group couple promiscuously within the group, and never outside it.</p><p>It's an incestuous arrangement by human standards, with father and son competing for and breeding with the same females. And though the females use the same nests, it's pretty competitive — one female will remove and eat another mother's eggs to make room for her own. Over time, according to Hastings, this results in a balance in the number of chicks among the females.</p><p>In addition, an acorn woodpecker group will also include other, non-breeding community "helper" members — they're the woodpeckers who go into battle for acorn granaries. Though the woodpeckers primarily feed on insects, acorns provide them with non-perishable nutrition for those colder months when bug meals are few and far between.</p>
Fight Club<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzgwMDAzOS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MTcxMDU5Nn0.ep-PNigMZayCRdAp47v-5aBWp9a3x9iwkVLdlOqZEkM/img.jpg?width=980" id="33cea" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="fe92b1641ba8518f164dd274e69cc44e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="acorns embedded in tree holes" />
Credit: David A Litman/Shutterstock<p>A granary for which an acorn woodpecker will fight is reminiscent of a human wine rack: An array of vertical storage compartments for their precious winter food. And they're dead serious about acquiring this storage: "These birds often wait for years, and when there's the right time and they have the right coalition size, they'll go and give it their all to win a really good territory," <a href="https://phys.org/news/2020-09-acorn-woodpeckers-wage-days-long-vacant.html" target="_blank">says Barve.</a></p><p>The balls-to-the-wall action of acorn woodpecker battle have made it difficult for human researchers to keep track of what's going on, so Barve and his colleagues devised a solution: They outfitted woodpeckers with radio tags that allowed the researchers to tell when two birds were in the same location, and to track the origin of combatants, and also to make detailed observations of a melee.</p><p>While the researchers had thought that acorn woodpeckers living nearby would most fiercely make a play for a nearby granary, this turned out not to be the case. It's not yet known what prompts one group of woodpeckers to commit to battle, though the researchers suggest that a group's internal calculus somehow produces a decision whether to try and acquire a particular granary.</p><p>Yet commit they do. The researchers found that woodpecker teams will fight for as long as 10 hours straight, and will return day after day. This was something of a surprise to researchers, making them wonder how they even sustain themselves that long.</p>
"Get ya acorns heayah, acorns, get ya acorns heayah!"<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzgwMDA0Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNzkyMDMwMX0.MH5tJaZk4PQrANKic92UKkVIG8kuW7gAgrFRQHk1YMk/img.jpg?width=980" id="9a454" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9af4e854af92f7a5c48aba5a86359366" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="woodpeckers" />
Credit: Petr Simon/Shutterstock<p>Previous research missed the spectators because the brouhaha was so overwhelming and attention-grabbing. As many as 30 woodpeckers have been observed in the peanut gallery.</p><p>The researchers have seen birds coming from as far as three kilometers (1.9 miles) away. These onlookers may spend up to an hour each day in attendance. Among the spectators are woodpeckers who already have adequate granaries of their own — whatever they get out of watching has to be worth the time spent leaving their own granaries unattended. The researchers suggest the watchers may be curious about changes a battle could make to the local status quo.<span></span></p><p>These highly social birds may also actually be rooting for one fighting group over another. "They potentially have friendships," <a href="https://phys.org/news/2020-09-acorn-woodpeckers-wage-days-long-vacant.html" target="_blank">says Barve,</a> "and they probably have enemies. The next step is to try and understand how their social networks are shaped, and how they vary across the year."</p>
Maybe you've been wondering if you're seeing one persistent squirrel or a rotating cast of characters.
Watching the wildlife outside your window can boost your mental well-being, and it's something lots of people have been doing a lot more of lately.
These pink feathered folk form complex social networks and are choosy about who they spend their time with, according to a new study.
- A five-year study conducted by researchers at the University of Exeter shows that flamingos are choosy about who they spend their time with.
- Flamingo friendships are made and maintained long-term due to preference rather than loose, randomly made connections.
- In 2009, Madison, Wisconsin, named the plastic pink flamingo the city's official bird.
Research findings<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzA4ODQ4NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyOTg0Mjk0OH0.0kHti5uD5VAzFV2c5Pz4HJNPJWyIp0L-Y3C8bQK9kyQ/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C0&height=700" id="9fc5f" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2b64c67c722641d733a2d570c85216b8" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Photo Credit: Shutterstock<p>The study, published in <a href="https://trello-attachments.s3.amazonaws.com/5abbd0de21543606f77671cb/5e973b531af0401c662673d6/f95d4964cfd0be6e9beb756118bbd829/Flamingo_Study.pdf" target="_blank"><em>Behavioural Processes</em></a>, examined four captive flamingo species held at WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre in the U.K. from 2013 to 2016 and compared the findings to data collected on the flamingos in 2012. Researchers examined flocks of Caribbean, Chilean, Andean, and Lesser flamingos. Behavioral data was collected by photographic records of the birds, which were taken four times per day in the spring and summer and three times per day in the fall and winter. </p><p>The researchers found that in every flock, the birds had formed social bonds including mating pairs, same-sex pals and groups of three to four close friends. The preferred acquaintances that were noted in 2012 were still present in 2016. </p><p>"We compared birds that were consistently seen together, in close proximity, over time," said Paul Rose, Ph.D., an author of the study, in an email to Big Think. "We repeated our measurements to make sure what we were seeing was not by chance and to be able to build up a picture of who would be most often seen near or with another bird." </p><p>According to the research team, the results indicate that flamingo societies are complex, with flamingo friendships made and maintained long-term due to preference rather than loose, randomly made connections. </p><p>"There have been several pieces of published research that show non-human animals form social bonds that are important to their health and well-being and to the social [organization] of their group (i.e. keeping it together)," explained Rose. "What we think is interesting about the flamingo work is that this is a gregarious bird that gathers in very large flocks, yet within these large flocks there is an element of social choice. So the flamingos must be aware of who is around them to choose who they want to be associating with."</p><p>All of the flamingos in the study were more frequently seen socializing rather than being solitary, though some were especially social, fluttering between groups. The observed flocks varied in size from just over 20 to more than 140, and the findings suggest that the flamingos in the largest flocks displayed the highest occurrence of social interactions </p><p>Additionally, the researchers wanted to see what impact foot health had on individual differences in flamingo social behavior. (Captive flamingos are prone to suffer from changes to the plantar surface of the foot.) The foot health scores, as it turned out, did not matter when it came to predicting the friendships in the three of the four studied flamingo flocks. Though, researchers found that the number of connections made between flamingos was significantly influenced by the season.</p>
Improving conservation efforts<p>It's typical for some animals to invest in social relationships that convey fitness benefits, and those bonds can be long lasting. These new understandings of how the formation of a long-term social bond can be important for a flamingo's quality of life may be utilized to advise animal management and conservation efforts going forward.</p> <p>"These results are helpful for those working with captive flamingos to consider the number of birds housed so that an array of opportunities for choice of associate and/or breeding partner are available in zoo-housed flocks," the authors write. "Understanding the persistence and strength of social bonds could help inform conservation actions for wild flocks by maintaining suitable habitats for birds to return to year-on-year."</p> <p>For example, you wouldn't want to split up life-long pals when moving a flock to a new location. In the future, the researchers think that the impact of flock size and environment on flamingo social networks should be further investigated. </p>
More about flamingos<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzA4ODQ4Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0OTU3MzUzMX0.l_3zglYpnXLq7RmWlziXkf1YjYeRSZGEQs9kq37DcfE/img.jpg?width=980" id="0ad5c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e9060ba0634027555f01061d1fd90fe4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
On the origin of beauty: Darwin's controversial idea about sex<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="gd1MDKD1" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="d79d56bc91a1a34da141d93237cbcf41"> <div id="botr_gd1MDKD1_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/gd1MDKD1-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/gd1MDKD1-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/gd1MDKD1-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Groundbreaking neurological research on songbirds provides insight on human learned behavior and speech.
- Scientists recently implanted a false memory into the brains of young zebra finches, teaching them a melody they had never heard before.
- By stimulating certain neural circuits in the male birds' brains, researchers taught them courtship songs bypassing the lessons of an adult tutor.
- Scientists hope this research expands our knowledge of neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism.
The anatomy of bird 'inception'<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ec72f3a2e728a0ee4bbecd080ab5cc7f"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/TaC6D1cW1Hs?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>To test whether manipulating certain neural circuits could implant behavioral-goal memories, the researchers raised young male birds without any social or auditory experience gained through adult song tutors. </p><p>Typically, young male zebra finches learn to sing a mating song from their father or another adult tutor. The finches use their song to court female birds in a behavior that is called "directed singing." Naturally, the birds spend a great deal of time practicing their song in private so they are ready to swoop in and serenade a female when the opportunity arises. </p><p>Researchers optically tutored the finches using light pulses that stimulated certain neural circuits, which were designed to mimic short song elements. This "opto-tutoring" in the young birds shaped the temporal structure of their mating song in adulthood by imprinting "memories" of the song into the birds' brain, bypassing the tutor's lessons. The finches sang the courtship songs that corresponded to the duration of time light had kept the neurons active. Birds that received shorter pulses sang songs with a shorter duration, and those that received extended pulses held their melodies longer. </p><p>Interestingly, the researchers found that opto-tutored male birds grasped the social norms of singing. Like regularly tutored birds, they practiced their mating song when alone and, when presented with a female finch to woo, they performed using the shorter and extended notes they learned through the false memory implantation.</p><p>While the researchers were able to imprint the duration of syllables in the birds' memories, that isn't everything that they need to learn in the song. There are other important characteristics that a zebra finch needs to nail, including pitch and correctly ordering the syllables. Next the researchers want to identify the circuits that carry that other information, and investigate the ways to encode those memories.</p>
Human Implications<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjA2MTAyOC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNDc4ODI1M30.hOJ6Ss6B38RGFMbYZWptoBreY1byF93CgB64UCC9s6k/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=107%2C169%2C27%2C95&height=700" id="24b6c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d68b68b4f1722fbcb7b9eaf048b79baf" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons<p>The groundbreaking study could potentially serve as a blueprint for discovering how genetic and social environments influence neural circuits over time.</p><p>"This is the first time we have confirmed brain regions that encode behavioral-goal memories — those memories that guide us when we want to imitate anything from speech to learning the piano," said <a href="http://profiles.utsouthwestern.edu/profile/134757/todd-roberts.html" target="_blank">Dr. Todd Roberts</a>, a neuroscientist with UT Southwestern's <a href="https://utswmed.org/odonnell/" target="_blank">O'Donnell Brain Institute in a press release.</a> "The findings enabled us to implant these memories into the birds and guide the learning of their song."</p><p>Because the zebra finches vocal development process is similar to humans, this knowledge might help us better understand the mechanisms of human speech and language learning. The hope is that someday it will be used to target certain speech genes that are disrupted in people with neurological conditions that affect vocalization, such as autism. Not only that, but it could be used to help kids understand other social patterns and cues. </p><p>Of course, the neural pathways of the human mind are a great deal more complex than the circuitry of a songbird's brain. While this research points us in the right direction on where to look for more information on neurodevelopmental disorders, it will be a while before science can imprint the human mind with false memories via light pulse. </p>