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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Smart Birds 1

Western science has been slow to recognize intelligence in animals. I suspect this is because since we began to get our food from agriculture there has been little need to observe animals closely in the way that hunters do. I always enjoy seeing animals think and above is a little example I saw out at Esquimalt Lagoon. Great Blue Herons usually wade around until they catch a small fish. Getting their catch from the end of that long beak into their mouth is usually just a matter of opening the beak briefly while tipping the head back so that the catch slides down towards the throat. I've never seen a heron lose a small fish while doing this so I watched with interest when the heron pictured above caught a furiously wriggling eel (above left). I figured he was going to lose it for sure as soon as he opened his bill in order to slide it down towards his mouth since the eel was whipping itself back and forth vigorously. What the heron did in this situation was to wade in to the beach and up onto the shingle. There he dropped his catch on the pebbles where it couldn't swim away to safety. The heron then stabbed it a few times (above center). Once it had stopped moving he picked it up and swallowed it in the usual way (above right). If you think about it, this is a wonderfully complex series of actions. I wonder whether this bird figured this method out for itself or whether it is behavior learned from other herons. I had been watching this heron for some time and earlier saw it twice catch small fish and swallow them without killing them on shore first.

6 comments:

JoJo said...

It's amazing how smart animals are, smarter than we give them credit for.

Dean Lewis said...

Clearly he knew that was the technique required for that particular evasive meal.
What's even more remarkable is what is now recognized as inherited knowledge, instincts to do things requiring definite insights. It seems it is part of the genetic DNA info passed on.

Multiple generations of Monarch Butterflies as part of a long-term round-trip relay to a very specific location is one of the most remarkable.

Leif Hagen said...

Spectacular bird photos! He posed very nicely for you!

Andy said...

Animals learn from experience. They are in day by day struggle to survive. Most humans have a simple task of just going to the local grocery store for food. If the bird lets his food escape he goes hungry. Photographers like you also learn from experience and it shows with these great photos. Keep on clicking.

Kris said...

It's welcome to the eels!

Benjamin Madison said...

Thanks all for your kind comments. Dean I think the jury is still out on the nature/nurture argument. It seems to me that intelligence - the ability to think and to learn - is probably much more valuable in evolutionary terms than specifically programmed bits of behaviour. But in cases like the Monarch migration, specific genetic programs would seem to be necessary.