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Animal Behaviors

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Bird Brains
Teacher Contributed

Bird Brains

Topic

Animal Intelligence

Student Exploration

That Bird Ain't No Dummy

Have you ever heard the phrase, "running around like a chicken with its head cut off?" Well, chickens really do respond that way to having their heads cut off, though not many people are aware these days of the accuracy of that statement. What they are aware of is the social connotation of the phrase. If someone is scattered, flustered, simple minded, they're like a bird, a bird brain if you will. But in making this comparison, are we being fair to birds? The answer appears to be an emphatic NO! Research is increasingly showing how sophisticated some birds are in their behavior and decision making. Yep, some birds, such as crows, seem to make conscious decisions. Find out more from the below videos.

But as much as everyone loves demonstrations of intelligence in other animals, scientists have to be very careful in interpreting their results. Unfortunately, cool results are not always accurate results, and there is a long tradition of people reading "humanity" in the actions of other organisms. Read the below article to find out how scientists are trying to balance the scales and ensure the integrity of research into animal intelligence.

Extension Investigation

  1. Do you think the crow "vending machine" represents learned or innate behavior? Give specific reasons for your answer.
  2. Do you think crows have benefited from the spread of Homo sapiens over the planet? Explain your reasoning fully.
  3. Do you find it surprising that some species take advantage of circumstances that are harmful to other species? Why or why not? What does this say about the interconnectedness of living organisms?
  4. Joshua Klein states that the crow with the wire had never seen another organism bend a wire. What kind of life would this crow have led for this statement to be shown absolutely true? Would you be less impressed to find out the crow had seen this behavior at some point in its life and remembered it, rather than spontaneously generating the behavior?
  5. Can you think of an experiment to determine if the crows in Japan that use cars to crack nuts learned this behavior from one another or all figured out this behavior independently? Remember in all good experimental designs you need to control and isolate variables as much as possible.

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