Comparative Avian Cognition : Physical and Social Problem Solving in Corvids and Parrots

Abstract: Within the last few decades, investigations of problem solving in avian species such as corvids have challenged the few that complex cognitive abilities are unique to the primate lineage, and provide a compelling case for the convergent evolution of cognition in a range of large-brained, socially complex species. Despite these advances, there is still much that is unknown about how corvids acquire and use information to solve problems in both their social and physical environments, and comparably little research has focused on other large-brained avian taxa such as parrots. The research presented in this thesis investigates both physical and social cognition in two parrot and two corvid species by examining how individuals interact with and acquire information about their physical world, and whether birds will use physical information to benefit conspecifics. Observational data provide new evidence for a novel form of tool use among a highly explorative species, the greater vasa parrot (Coracopsis vasa), and empirical data show that exploration may provide these birds with information about how novel objects (including potential tools) behave. An additional experiment with kea (Nestor notabilis) and New Caledonian crows (Corvus moneduloides) suggests that information acquired during exploration may aid in problem solving, although individuals do not change their exploratory behaviour in order to acquire functional information about objects that is relevant to a specific task. An investigation of social cognition in ravens (Corvus corax) shows that subjects can attend to multiple dynamic stimuli in order to obtain a food reward, but do not use this ability to provide food to an affiliate or non-affiliate partner. Taken together, the results of these studies suggest that both parrots and corvids are adept at attending to and learning about different types of physical information which can aid problem solving, but do not intentionally seek this information or use it to benefit others.

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