The amazing bird that can make predictions

Parrot fashion: One of the cleverest birds, the kea was named Bird of the Year in 2017. © Alamy

Animals might be more intelligent than we thought. Six parrots in New Zealand have shown researchers that they can make decisions and predict what events might happen in the future.

What’s happening

Scientists have been working with kea birds to see how well they understand probability – and have come up with some amazing results.

The parrots have shown they can use previously learned knowledge to make predictions, and that they understand far more than was previously thought.

Find out more

Kea birds have a reputation in New Zealand for being cheeky. Scientists thought this could be down to high intelligence and decided to test it.

They taught the birds that a black token always led to a tasty treat, whereas an orange one never did. Then they placed two transparent jars next to the birds each one containing a mixture of back and orange tokens.

But one jar had more black tokens and the other more orange ones. The birds were tested to see which jar they preferred the scientists to pick from. Sure enough, they always chose the jar with more black tokens.

The birds had worked out how to increase their chances of getting a treat. It was a shock to the researchers – the birds even performed better than some chimpanzees.

Are animals more intelligent than we thought?

Some say…

They must be! The kea birds performed better than many of the researchers expected them to, even outshining some of the chimpanzees. Before we worked with apes, nobody thought they would be able to use computers – but they surprised us too. Animals are always showing us their intelligence in new ways. We have only scratched the surface.

Others think…

Let’s not get carried away. The parrots performed well in the experiments because they were trained to recognise treats. Humans have been training dogs in similar ways for centuries. We have always known that animals can recognise these things. It is just instinct, not intelligence.

You Decide

  1. Do you think some animals can speak to each other?

Activities

  1. Form into pairs. Write the story of a day in the life of an animal, and read it aloud to your partner. Think about where it lives, what it eats, and what it does. Remember, it can be any animal – so let your imagination run wild!

Some People Say...

“If an animal does something, we call it instinct; if we do the same thing for the same reason, we call it intelligence.”

William Jacob Cuppy (1884-1949), US literary critic

What do you think?

Word Watch

Kea birds
The kea bird is a species of large parrot native to New Zealand. It is nearly 50cm long, olive green in colour, with a razor-sharp, curved beak. Keas often use their beaks for slicing open rucksacks and stealing snacks!
Probability
Probability is the chance that something will happen, or how likely it is that an event will occur. When we toss a coin in the air, we use the word “probability” to refer to how likely it is that the coin will land either heads or tails.
Transparent
A material which allows light through so that objects can easily be seen. We also say see-through.

Subjects

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