Birds continue to fascinate us with their intelligence and problem solving abilities. A team of researchers from Oxford University, the University of Vienna, and the Max Planck Institute collaborated to investigate "cognitive operations underlying sequential problem solving" in Goffin's cockatoos.

Untrained Goffin's cockatoos were presented with a puzzle box holding food consisting of 5 interlocking devices, each sequentially jamming the other.

[credit plosone.org]

In order to access the food, objects needed to be manipulated in a specific sequence- removal of a pin, screw, and bolt, followed by turning a wheel and shifting a latch.


[via University of Vienna]

A number of interesting insights are suggested:
Goal oriented problem solving through a 'cognitive ratchet' process where once one specific problem was solved, the birds were rarely troubled by it again. Professor Alex Kacelnik of Oxford University's Department of Zoology, states 'We cannot prove that the birds understand the physical structure of the problem as an adult human would, but we can infer from their behaviour that they are sensitive to how objects act on each other, and that they can learn to progress towards a distant goal without being rewarded step-by-step."

Apparent understanding of the physical problem as opposed to a memorisation of a sequence of actions. When confronted with re-ordered, removed or deactivated locks, Dr Alice Auersperg reports that "Statistical analysis showed that they reacted to the changes with immediate sensitivity to the novel situation."

Dr Auguste von Bayern, a co-author from Oxford University states: "The birds' sudden and often errorless improvement and response to changes indicates pronounced behavioural plasticity and practical memory. We believe that they are aided by species characteristics such as intense curiosity, tactile exploration techniques and persistence: cockatoos explore surrounding objects with their bill, tongue and feet. A purely visual explorer may have never detected that they could move the locks."

Bonus, these birds have been shown to exhibit delayed gratification.


[via phys.org, bbc, and plosone.org]