Avian Innovation

Louis Lefebvre, from the department of Biology at McGill, recently compared the ability of birds to innovate using thousands of reports of feeding innovations birders have observed and published. Crows and jays were the most innovative. Chickens and turkeys were the least. Also, from comparing successful and unsuccessful introductions of birds, it appears that more innovative bird species appear to be more successful invaders (Sol et al 2002. Behavioural flexibility and invasion success in birds. Anim. Beh.).

From the BBC:

Dr Lefebvre said that many of the novel feeding behaviours he included in the work were mundane, but every once in a while, birds could be spectacularly inventive about obtaining their food.

During the war of liberation in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, a soldier and avid bird watcher observed vultures sitting on barbwire fences next to mine fields waiting for gazelles and other herbivores to wander in and get blown to smithereens.

“It gave them a meal that was already ground up,” said Dr Lefebvre.

“The observer mentioned that once in a while a vulture was caught at its own game and got blown up on a mine.”

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