Saturday, 9 May 2009

Bird Brains Stun Science

“In the past, people thought birds were stupid," laments the aptly named Ornithologist Prof. Christopher Canary, “But in fact, some of our feathered friends are far cleverer than we might think – and definitely smarter than your average dolphin – or Chav or Asbo yobette.”

And one group in particular - the corvids - has astonished scientists with extraordinary feats of memory, an ability to employ complex social reasoning and, perhaps most strikingly, a remarkable aptitude demonstrated by jackdaws and magpies for crafting and using tools to break into cars and ATM cash outlets.

Prof. Canary, who heads the Department of Avian Studies at Smegmadale University, says: "I would rate corvids as being more intelligent than most of Gordon ‘Culpability’ Brown’s cabinet in many ways – and definitely smarter than the City’s incompetent banksters due their comprehension of financial quantitative easing.”

The corvids - a group that includes crows, ravens, rooks, jackdaws, jays and magpies - contain some of the most quick-witted of avian species, with several actually achieving near maximum scores on the Shitford-Bidet Intelligence Scale test and qualifying for membership of the high IQ society Mensa.

Some of their intelligence is played out against the backdrop of living with others, where being intelligent enough to recognize individuals, to form alliances and foster relationships is key – as per crooked politician types.

However, group living can also lead to deceptive behaviour - and western scrub jays can be the sneakiest of the bird-bunch when it comes to imitating the nuances and complex idiosyncrasies of human nature.

Many corvids will hide stores of food for later consumption, especially during the current global recession when resources are scarce, but western scrub jays take this one step further.

Prof. Canary explains: "If they are being watched by their nosy, sneaky neighbours, they’ll hide their food, but they do some 'fake hides' as well - so they'll put their beak in the ground, but not place the food – or hide a piece of inedible junk like a shard broken glass or a druggies discarded syringe needle, while being spied on. It's a bit like a chess master’s confusion strategy.”

Corvids' cognisance of other birds has led scientists to ponder whether they are also aware of themselves. To test this scientists use the Gallup response experiment where an animal is then shown its reflection in a mirror that has various objects spread around it.

While a cormorant, the archetype ‘numpty’ of the avian world, will sit staring at the mirror until it drops off to sleep, a corvid – especially so a jackdaw – has been recorded admiring its reflection while it adorns itself with earrings, lipstick and mascara.

This phenomenon has been observed in not only the female of the species but also the male, prompting ornithology researchers to conclude that all male jackdaws have transvestite tendencies, with Professor Canary commenting “Que – what’s so surprising about a faggot jackdaw?”

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