Saturday, August 7, 2010

Bird cognition with respect to crackers and water

Every once in a while, an animal will do something that really surprises me, though this no doubt speaks more to my human parochiality than anything else.

As anyone who has walked along Mill Avenue at dusk is aware—painfully so, for those who run the gauntlet without earplugs and an umbrella—Tempe has a sizable Great-tailed Grackle population. They are the most common of birds, and always seemed to me unremarkable, though fun. But when I was reading outdoors at ASU a few months ago, I saw a female of the species fly over to a nearby puddle, and repeatedly dip a cracker into the water before pecking at it. I have never seen this kind of thing before. I did not automatically impute food-softening intention to the bird, thinking that the behavior I observed might be accidental, but I have seen it twice more since then (once today, prompting this post). I wonder where this behavior comes from—is it hardwired into them, do they each learn it by trial-and-error, or do they learn it from one another?

Remembering distantly that crows can solve problems that will leave your Golden Retriever baffled, I search a little on the web and find this:

Not grackles, but still—cooool.

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