As regular CFZ-watchers will know, for some time Corinna has been doing a column for Animals & Men and a regular segment on On The Track... particularly about out-of-place birds and rare vagrants. There seem to be more and more bird stories from all over the world hitting the news these days so, to make room for them all - and to give them all equal and worthy coverage - she has set up this new blog to cover all things feathery and Fortean.

Thursday, 13 February 2020

Smart birds' two-year memory means they could be trained to avoid cats

Amber-Leigh Woolf15:18, Feb 12 2020

North Island robins tested at Zealandia remembered a trick for two years.

Scientists have discovered the North Island robin (toutouwai) has a memory of two years and hope this can aid its survival.

In a test at Zealandia in Wellington, the toutouwai were able to peck open a lid to retrieve concealed food after being taught the trick years prior.

Lecturer in behavioural ecology Rachel Shaw said the two-year memory span, and the birds' accuracy, was surprising. 

"Once they've got it, they've really got it."  

The impressive result means robin might be able to be taught new strategies to avoid predators, Shaw said. 

"In a population like that [in Zealandia] where individuals are always dispersing across the fence, it could be that we could train individuals about threats in Wellington, like cats," she said. 

North Island robin (toutouwai) have been found to be able to retain the memory of a trick for two years.

"It's a cool positive that might yield some great conservation applications in the future." 

In 2015 and 2016, Shaw successfully trained all the 32 toutouwai residents of Zealandia to open a swivel lid with their beak to retrieve a worm from a hidden compartment. 

Of the 32 experienced toutouwai, 30 birds spontaneously solved the task, opening the lids on their first attempt. None of the untrained birds solved the task. 

Shaw said the birds were taught using a behavioural shaping procedure.  

The impressive result means North Island robin may be able to be taught to avoid cats.

"We progressively close the lid to the point that they understand that when it's fully closed they know there's food in there, and they can open it." 

The result did not arise due to the birds being more likely to interact with the apparatus, the Biology Letters journal article on the research said. 

"The experienced birds' pecking behaviour was spontaneous and targeted.

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