A Wall Street Journal column says that ” Experiments Suggest that Birds may be Capable of Planning Ahead”. In one experiment, ravens were put on a perch, with a food treat suspended on a string tied to the perch. To get the treat, the ravens had to pull up the string , then step on it, pull up the string some more and step on it, doing this several times to bring the treat within reach.Some birds examined the situation, then performed the whole procedure on their first try. Apparently, the ravens imagined the possiblities and figured out what steps to take. Also cited is a 2002 study in which a crow formed a wire into a hook to grab food, “the first time any animal has been found to make a new tool for a specific task”.
These are certainly very impressive but one wonders why the intelligence of birds was ever questioned in the first place. I am sure all of us remember the Aesop’s fable in which a crow drops pebbles into a long necked jug so that the water level within rises and brings it within reach of its beak. Surely, Aesop must have based his fable on something that he observed. Then also, we have Geese which fly in V-formation to minimise the air resistance on all except the lead bird; they share the burden by taking turns in front. Isn’t that an example of planning ?
The story that intrigues me , however, is of wintering birds that fly hundreds of miles, often over long stretches of water. How do they do it ? They cannot rely on being able to rest on a ship’s rigging and at the same time, they can’t fly non-stop till they make land. One “explanation” is that they carry a twig in their beaks as they set out on their journey across the sea. When they get tired they drop the twig in the ocean and perch on it until they are rested. They then pick up the twig and resume their journey.They do this over and over until they reach land. If this were true, it would indeed be a great example of foresight and planning. But is it true? Seems a little far-fetched to me.