Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Why so clever ?

Much has appeared recently in the press, on the radio and in scientific reviews regarding the problem solving ability of corvids. See: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8181233.stm
Reported in Current Biology is the case of rooks being able to gain initally inaccessible floating food by dropping stones into a vessel in order to raise the water level so as to reach the food. In another study at Oxford University crows were able to use a small hook to gain a medium hook to gain a large hook in order to get at food. Amazingly some of the tested birds were able to solve the problem at their first attempt.
The question here for me though is: why do corvids manifest this ability to utilise tools under laboratory conditions when they are not widely reported to use the same ability in the wild? It's a bit like a human being able to read, speak and write a foreign language but only doing so as a party piece once a year. Why do these birds have this ability but then not use it more commonly?


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