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By Bubba    

 Expressions such as ‘Birdbrain’, ‘Booby’ and ‘Dumb as a Dodo’ imply that birds are not intelligent. I’ve had similar problems with my name.

Some Avian behaviors appear to support the impression of stupid. Species that evolved on remote islands with no significant predators, such as Belize’s Booby Bird on Halfmoon Caye, can seem absurdly oblivious to humans, a large mistake for big birds that go well with beans and rice. The Red Footed Booby of Belize, except for their protection by government would have gone the way of two other extinct island species, the Great ‘Auk’of the north Atlantic and the ‘Dodo’ of Mauritius, who both where killed by sailors seeking fresh meat to subsidize their sea fairing diet. In all three cases, individual birds seemed unable to respond to the harm humans intended them, and most perceive this as not smart.

The existence of these stereotypic behaviors should not obscure the highly refined and adaptive behaviors that birds exhibit in other situations.

An array of Avian behaviors, awe inspiring to observe in nature, make one wonder how intelligent birds must be to perform them.

Humans are tool making and tool using specialists. However, the common assumption that only humans have the intelligence to create and use tools is false. Birds also make tools or use selected objects as tools to obtain a goal. For example,

 The Belizean Brown Jay has been seen catching insects using miniature tools they constructed from thin pieces of wood, thorns or cactus spines.

Several species of Belizean Woodpeckers select a twig straiten it by breaking of tiny pieces hold the twig in its beak, poke it into cracks and scrape it around crannies until an insect is flushed out. It then quickly tucks the twig away and devours the insect.

 The Green Heron, fishing in Ambergris’s lagoons uses its own feathers like a fly fisherman to lure fish into its grasp. Using tools is just a small indicator of intelligence. Creativeness and design are more advanced indicators.

The male Silk Bowerbird colorfully paints the walls of his bower after he finds some kind of fibrous material that can be used as a brush and a color producing substance, such as berries or charcoal that can be used as paint. After applying a color he steps back and looks at his work much like an artist pausing to evaluate his canvas.    

Prenatal care awareness is displayed by Belize’s Acorn Woodpecker by storing away bone fragments prior to the breeding season, to use as a dietary supplement of calcium during egg formation.

In building their homes, birds can manifest the skills of a tailor, mason, carpenter or other human craftsman. Birds also have capabilities that are superior to those of humans. Using information found in the environment, migrating and homing birds can determine precise direction and passage of time (the “avian compass” and the “avian clock”).  They can use natural information to ‘read’ barometric pressure, wind patterns, the earth’s magnetism, polarized light patterns, subtle odors, movements of the sun, patterns and movements of the stars, infrasound and subtle landmarks.  They use these natural cues to find their way much better.

   The avian world is much older than ours.  They live gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained.  They are not our brethren or our underlings; they are another nation, caught with us in the net of life, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of earth. Does that sound cuckoo to you?


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You might like Alexander Skutch's The Minds of Birds if you can round up a copy down your way. It unashamedly deals with avian intelligence and emotion and is very readable. Granted, Skutch is preaching to the choir as they say but it's a good read. I'd also point you to David Quammen's Song of the Dodo as a wonderful, and narcotically addictive, read. It's about island biogeography and why things that live on islands tend to seem stupid to the rest of us "world travellers" and prone to extinction.

I'm headed to Guatemala in October to do some field work near the Sierra de las Minas Biosphere. Any suggestions on boning up for Central American birding? Maybe I'll come by Belize :)

the titles in the above post are links to reviews of the books...the links work but seem to blend into the rest of the post.

Hea Thanks I'll definitely pick it up.
I've recently read about some japan crows that place nuts in traffic to get them opened and will wait for the cross walk light to turn, walk out ,place the nut, walk back and wait for the traffic to run over then,wait for the light ,then walk out and collect the crushed nuts.

The latest and up to date
is 'Birds of Belize' by H. Lee Jones
would apply to Guatemala as well
Oct. is the month I do most of my adventure jungle travel.
I've a friend with a ranch that is 135,000 acres of rainforest that has a border with Guatemala. He has done well with the conservation/protection of it and its prime birdwatching. I'm sure I'll be there at Gallon Jug.

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