Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Smart birds-

More torture here for you, RC- this is not much about guineas...  :-)

The NYT has a good article on the growing awareness of scientists that animals are "smart", etc. - Crows remember faces.

Good article; for two reasons- it tells a good story about a nice experiment on crows learning specific human faces- and teaching other crows- and remembering for years-

And it also fully illustrates the stunning current "scientific" bias against this kind of understanding.  Later in the article it talks about how that silly guy Konrad Lorenz had inklings...

Though Dr. Marzluff’s is the first formal study of human face recognition in wild birds, his preliminary findings confirm the suspicions of many other researchers who have observed similar abilities in crows, ravens, gulls and other species. The pioneering animal behaviorist Konrad Lorenz was so convinced of the perceptive capacities of crows and their relatives that he wore a devil costume when handling jackdaws. Stacia Backensto, a master’s student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks who studies ravens in the oil fields on Alaska’s North Slope, has assembled an elaborate costume — including a fake beard and a potbelly made of pillows — because she believes her face and body are familiar to previously captured birds.

Puuuleeeeze!  "Suspicions??"  Lorenz wasn't "so convinced" - he KNEW.  Backensto doesn't "believe" - she KNOWS.  Many others knew, and have for many decades.  One of my heroes is Ernest Thompson Seton- who wrote an extensive, multi volume set of fully academic studies on the life histories of game animals- and also wrote popularized versions for general consumption- from around 1905 to 1940.  His work is full of hard scientific observations- showing all kinds of animal intelligence and individuality- and many other workers followed.  But somehow, Marzluff thinks his study is the first.  Far, far from it.  But the Times buys it- and to my dismay even journals like Science use this kind of hyper-conservative language- which actually obscures a huge amount of knowledge.

Argh.  Don't get me started on the sad state of "science"; I really don't have time.  And it really ticks me off- science is a fabulously powerful and useful tool- but it's mostly very poorly used, and only superficially understood; particularly by those with PhD's.


Abbie said...

Thanks for the link! I have a student this year doing an independent study in Zoology with me and I'm going to have her read this.

RC said...

I passed a great deal of time with crows one summer in the Jersey Pine Barrens when I was about 12. I didn't know then {and am not that aware now} about the science but it was very obvious that they are extremely smart and very successful birds. Here in the Caribbean we have another very high IQ bird, the truche, known in English as the pearly-eyed thrasher.
Very nasty also, worse than blue jays. Perhaps you know of Oscar Diaz' work with the El Yunque Parrot {Icaco}. I spent years around that project and years around the truche studies carried out at the top of Yunque. What I did learn first hand is that, sad to say, some birds are deadly to the ecosystem and I would put truches in that club. But that is another topic for another day.
I certainly hope the lovely guineas are thriving in or out of captivity. They do not like captivity.

E said...

Antone who is interested in animal behavior can read Bernd Heinrich. He spent years studying crows and as I recall he had a hard time publishing his results- science....