Segments in this Video

Introduction: Bird Brain (01:45)


There are thousands of bird species occupying the world; scientists test them, revealing their intelligence and emotions.

Rio, the Macaw (02:45)

Rio is a 10 year old scarlet macaw and trained entertainer; he is given a string pull test, a new puzzle for the bird requiring visualization to solve. He retrieves the treat, demonstrating the ability to learn.

Imprinting and Instinct (02:57)

In the 1930s, Konrad Lorenz studied geese, finding they learn when to perform instinctive behaviors by imprinting. He found some behavior purely instinctive; see goose egg experiment. Flying is instinct, requiring little thought.

Brad, The Raven (02:38)

Brad is closely bonded to his trainer; he is given a crushed water bottle with a treat inside; he partially fills it with water to swish the food free, demonstrating problem solving skills. Ravens are part of the crow family; along with parrots, they are the most intelligent avian species.

Birds Brains (03:32)

At Haidlhof Research Station, crows and parrots are studied and compared. John, a kea, is given a complex string pull test including a hidden treat and placebo option; he chooses the correct string under varying circumstances, indicating that he formulates and executes plans. Crows and parrots have larger brains than most birds; avian neurons are more closely packed than those of mammals.

Environmental Factors (02:19)

Intelligence is believed to be influenced by natural habitat; food is scarce in New Zealand, to procure it, the kea must employ adaptive thinking. The species is inquisitive, explorative and brave; they do not have natural enemies, unlike crows who live alongside predators. Ravens scavenge, and must be clever and cautious while obtaining food.

Adaptive Thought (08:17)

New Caledonian crows mate for life and believed the most intelligent bird species; they use tools to obtain food in the wild. A researcher conducts a multi access box experiment with a crow and kea; both solve all components of the puzzle, displaying flexible thinking and problem solving skills. Kea likes to play and fit objects together; a specimen solves a tube test using a specific block to knock a treat from a cylinder, and showing conscious process and adaptive thought.

Using Tools (03:33)

A New Caledonian crow is given a lever test, which she works with a stone. A researcher sets up a complex hook experiment; the bird immediately uses the correct barb to obtain a treat.

Social Structures (07:30)

Scientists theorize that living in groups promotes animal intelligence. Crows maintain a complex social network with close friendships; a researcher conducts a social learning theory experiment with rooks; they learn different ways of solving the same puzzle by observing another's behavior. Geese are less intelligent, but an experiment shows they display inference; they fly in formation, working together for aerodynamic benefits.

Cooperation and Communication (03:22)

Keas are given a cooperative experiment involving a lid lifted by a see saw lever; one sits on the platform opposite the food, allowing the others to eat; the birds trade off, eventually all feed; the test shows use of cooperation to attain individual wants. A jackdaw is tested for eye signal recognition; her handler hides food and indicates its location by glancing in its direction; she recognizes the cue and also displays object permanency.

Delayed Gratification (04:46)

Human children are tested with chocolate; they are given the choice to wait for additional reward; results vary, delayed gratification is a developmental milestone. A raven is similarly tested; he is taught to exchange bread for cheese, which he prefers, but must wait for it; the more he likes a food, the longer he will wait for the tradeoff. The birds cache food and toys for later use; they must remember locations, and who might steal their possessions.

Recognition (02:07)

Researchers experiment with a raven's cache; they watch the bird hide its toy; one finds and leaves the object, another steals it; the crow learns to guard its possessions when the thieving researcher is present. A professor discusses an ongoing experiment; eleven years ago, he wore a mask while catching and tagging seven campus crows; whenever he wears the disguise he is scolded and sometimes attacked. He theorizes that the birds communicate to each other that he is a threat; many were not captured or yet living when the tagging occurred.

Emotion (04:15)

Crow funerals are tested with a decoy; the birds surround the body, rattling and crowing; studies show they are accessing their memory centers. Theory of Mind is observed in the species, and requires empathy; birds display emotions similar to humans. See Brad's response to being reunited with his trainer; review experiments and avian learning behaviors.

Credits: Bird Brain (00:55)

Credits: Bird Brain

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Bird Brain

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Join NOVA to witness the brainpower of birds. Long mocked as empty-headed, our feathered friends hide surprisingly acute intelligence. But how smart are they? Watch as scientists test avian aptitude and challenge our basic notions of intelligence.

Length: 54 minutes

Item#: FMK166849

Copyright date: ©2017

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