Birds Plan Breakfast

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Birds plan breakfast, according a report in and news@nature, 21 Feb 2007 and Nature, vol 445, p919 22 Feb 2007. In the wild, many birds store away food for the future, and seem to be able to store the right amount in the right place for their future needs. Scientists at Cambridge University, UK, studied scrub jays, which regularly store nuts, to see how precisely they could plan ahead.

Nicola Clayton and colleagues placed birds in cages with three parts. Food was placed in the middle section during the day and evening, but the birds could access all parts of the cage. In the mornings they were confined in one of the other two end sections. In one section they were given food, but not in the other. At first the birds were given powdered nuts, which they can eat but not store away. After the birds got to know the routine for feeding and being confined in one section of the cage they were given a plentiful supply of whole nuts during the day. Birds can bury whole nuts and the cages had trays of sand in the end sections. As expected, the birds buried some of the nuts, but they buried three times as many in the "no-breakfast" section.

In another experiment the birds were given two types of food during the day and evening. In the mornings they were confined in one of the end sections of the cage and were given one type of food. During the day the birds buried more of the food they would not be given the next morning in each of the end sections. These results indicate that it wasn't just the association with hunger that led them to bury food in one place and not another.

Thomas Zentall of University of Kentucky, who also studies animal cognition, commented that birds lead "intellectually demanding lives" - finding and processing different types of food, remembering where they hid the food, and keeping track of their neighbours, but there is a bias against birds because they have small brains. However, as Nicola Clayton pointed out "their brains are bigger than chimps, relative to the body size."

Editorial Comment: Biologists over the last few years have come to the conclusion our feathered friends are not "bird brained", but the birds' small brains are just wired differently from mammals, and this enables them to function at a very high level in spite of their small size. These days we praise clever electronic engineers for designing smaller computers that carry out more functions. Therefore, we should also praise the Creator who designed and made the bird brain, which does more than any computer. (Ref. intelligence, thinking, ornithology)

Evidence News, 17th May 2007

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