Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sure, may as well make it Bird Week

This is an excerpt from the book Bird Brains by Candace Savage, which is both interesting and beautiful.

"Teenage" ravesns don't spend their whole lives scrabbling over food. Like most other young corvids, they also take generous breaks for what looks like fun and frolic. Until quite recently, the drybones of science insisted that birds never played. At most, the experts said, birds experienced random and uncoordinated firings of their reflexes, little more than behvioural twitches. But this position has now been revised, largely through a consideration of crows and their allies. As a group, corvids are recognized as the most playful of birds, much given to games for one player such as drop-and-catch, hang-upsdide-down-under-the-branch and balance-on-the-flimsy-perch. Occasionally they invent complex social games, such as tug-of-war or king of the castle. (In the latter, one bird stands on the top of a mound and brandishes a small stick, while its playmate charges towards it and attempts to grab the object.) Sometimes their play even reaches out to engage a member of another species. For example, a young rave developed a game with a dog, in which bird and mammal—apparently reading each other's gestures and signals of intention—took turns chasing one other around a tree trunk. Ravens have also been known to play catch-me-if-you-can with wolves, a challenging pastime in which the birds are always at risk.

Play both exhibits and develops intelligence. Perhaps not the same intelligence that we have. It seems to work for them, though.


susan said...

The more I learn about crows the more fascinating I find them to be. I already knew about their close family ties, that they can use tools, can count and now I learn they play games as well. A year or so ago I watched a long video of John Marzluff's team from the U of WA about crows ability to recognize people's faces. If someone has mistreated one of them it's not long before the whole mob knows.

Ben said...

I believe it. Their system of caws and whistles is pretty intricate. And of course the idea of, say, 20 crows taking Hitchcockian revenge on someone who's wronged one of their own warms my heart.