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Science News: Are cockatoos smarter than humans?

– K.J., Editor

In Japan, many of us have had to animal-proof our trash bins to prevent animals from causing a large mess. Crows in particular are difficult to keep out due to their apparent high level of intelligence. Japanese ornithologist Hiroyoshi Higuchi PhD recounts an observation in his recent book Nyusuna Karasu Kansatsufuntoki of “faucet crows” in a Yokohama park where female carrion crows figured out how to operate water fountain faucets with their beaks to drink and bathe.

However, there is another avian species that displays high intelligence: the sulfur-crested Cockatoo (Cacatua galerita) that is native to Australia and New Guinea. These birds are large white parrots that spend most of their time in large flocks and are unbearably loud at a close distance. Over time, the sulfur-crested cockatoo has come to associate humans with food. This has led to a serious, yet hilarious “innovation arms race” between humans and cockatoos.

In Sydney and other areas, as soon as residents place rubbish in the bins, the cockatoos appear. To prevent the trash from being taken, residents have tried placing bricks and large rocks on the bins, using owl statues to scare them away, and other tactics. In 2021, a research team led by biologist Barbara Klump at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Germany explained a new technique that the cockatoos use to access the trash. They knock the bricks and stones to the ground then crack the lid open with their beak, prop the lid on their heads and walk it back until it fully flips on its hinges. The cockatoos have shared this technique, as it has been observed in the surrounding areas as well.

Like crows, as humans think of more innovative and smarter ways to keep cockatoos out of places they do not belong, they continue to outsmart us. This is an interesting example of evolution in action, and I wonder who the eventual victor will be, us or the birds?

Click here for the Japanese version.

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