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Science confirms "sweet" connection between birds and humans

PostPosted: July 24th, 2016, 6:36 am
by BioWizard
http://science.sciencemag.org/content/3 ... /387.short

I've always wanted to see a controlled study on this because I could never tell if it was real or just confirmation bias. Glad someone went out and gathered the numbers. There's many examples of cross-specie cooperativity in nature. But I think it's rare for humans to have it with nondomesticated wild animals. From the bird's side, it's assumed to be evolutionary, while from the human's side its obviously cultural. Though who knows, maybe the birds are teaching it to one another...

Re: Science confirms "sweet" connection between birds and hu

PostPosted: July 24th, 2016, 11:15 am
by vivian maxine
Biowizard, if you haven't read "Birdology" by Sy Montgomery, you might enjoy this book. They aren't scientifically, lab-controlled experiments but there are many stories of human and wild animal contact with various kinds of communication. Some of it - the first chapter anyway - is just the "pet/human" kind of thing but much of it gets into how humans and truly wild animals react to each other.

Re: Science confirms "sweet" connection between birds and hu

PostPosted: July 25th, 2016, 4:00 am
by doogles
Biowizard, thank you for that documented story. Such relationships are always interesting.

The one outstanding mutual relationship between animals and humans to my mind is the long-standing recorded interaction between orca whales and humans at Eden in south eastern New South Wales. In this case the signalling apparently commenced with the animal and not the human. I don't know of course, but this may be unique.

When Caucasian settlers developed a whaling station in the area in the 19th century, records were kept and many of these are published on the Eden Community Site - http://eden.nsw.au/historical-eden/eden ... /whaling52 . It contains many stories associated with the history of Eden including anecdotes about the whaling industry. They are well-worth reading by anyone interested in animal/human interactions.

Apparently the individual orcas became well known to the local whalers and were given pet names. I’ll include one brief extract from the Eden Community website.

The Davidsons and the Killers of Eden
… With help from the killer whales the Davidson family worked in the industry for four generations. Their boats crewed almost exclusively by family members and local Thawa men (my insert – These were local aborigines).

The story of Old Tom the killer whale is well known. He and his pack alerted the whalers to the presence of the whales by going to the Davidson whaling station and flop-tailing (slapping their tails on the surface of the water) until the whalers came out and joined the hunt in their small row boats. It was said that if the whalers lost sight of their guides they would slap their oars on the water and the lead Killer would turn back to ensure the whalers kept up.

While some of the Killers alerted the whalers to the presence of whales, other members of the pod would herd the whales into the shallow waters of the bay like dogs herding sheep. They often led the attack, harrassing, biting, driving the whales underwater where they could not breath, even attempting to cover the blow holes of the whales. Some times the Killers were less helpful and like all intelligent social animals liked to play as recalled by Effie Davidson*:
"Round and across the bay would go the whale, and round and across in hot pursuit would go the whalemen. Now assisting, now playfully hindering the chase would go the familiar Killers - Old Tom, Hooky, Humpy, Youngster - every one of the pack was known to the men."

In return for their assistance the Killers were awarded a special treat; the lips and tongues of the whales, the only part of the whale ever eaten by Killer Whales (the tongue by itself weighs up to four tons). After a kill the Davidson crew would attach the dead whale to an anchor and buoy and leave it for the killer whales to take their reward. They would row back two or three days later when the carcass had resurfaced and tow the body back to the try works at Kiah. … ”


By the way, the skeleton of Tom is displayed at the Eden Museum. It clearly shows a groove in one of the teeth which generations of whalers claim was worn there when Tom use to play with tight anchor and harpoon ropes.

Re: Science confirms "sweet" connection between birds and hu

PostPosted: July 25th, 2016, 9:13 am
by SciameriKen
BioWizard » Sun Jul 24, 2016 10:36 am wrote:http://science.sciencemag.org/content/353/6297/387.short

I've always wanted to see a controlled study on this because I could never tell if it was real or just confirmation bias. Glad someone went out and gathered the numbers. There's many examples of cross-specie cooperativity in nature. But I think it's rare for humans to have it with nondomesticated wild animals. From the bird's side, it's assumed to be evolutionary, while from the human's side its obviously cultural. Though who knows, maybe the birds are teaching it to one another...


In this relationship I think the birds think they have trained these gorillas to tear apart trees for them :D What I wonder about is what you said in the last sentence - how exactly do birds teach this to one another? I assume this is what is going on because this behavior seems very complex to be genetic

Re: Science confirms "sweet" connection between birds and hu

PostPosted: July 25th, 2016, 9:37 am
by BioWizard
SciameriKen » 25 Jul 2016 08:13 am wrote:I assume this is what is going on because this behavior seems very complex to be genetic


You really think so? I watch a lot of nature documentaries, and this doesn't even fall near the top of the complex-intersepecie-presumably-genetic-behavior list for me (you gotta see what some insects do!).

Statements of the form "X seems very complex to be genetic" always make me nervous... What's very complex vs just complex? By what metric? And how was the limit of genetically coded complexity determined?

I'm not saying the bird's behavior can't be a cultural meme. Rather, I'm saying that I wouldn't be surprised in the least if it turns out to be hard-wired.

Re: Science confirms "sweet" connection between birds and hu

PostPosted: July 25th, 2016, 10:03 am
by SciameriKen
BioWizard » Mon Jul 25, 2016 1:37 pm wrote:
SciameriKen » 25 Jul 2016 08:13 am wrote:I assume this is what is going on because this behavior seems very complex to be genetic


You really think so? I watch a lot of nature documentaries, and this doesn't even fall near the top of the complex-intersepecie-presumably-genetic-behavior list for me (you gotta see what some insects do!).

Statements of the form "X appears to be very complex to be genetic" always make me nervous... What's too complex? By what metric? And how was the limit of genetically coded complexity determined?

I'm not saying the bird's behavior can't be a cultural meme. Rather, I'm saying that I wouldn't be surprised in the least if it turns out to be hard-wired.


I agree with you - I think one thing driving my thinking was a misconception that this was a phenomenon that developed in the last century, when actually, this could have been happening over thousands of years. My metric was just in thinking about the complexity of the task relative to how much time is needed for it to evolve. Then again, even this line of thinking isn't perfect as evolution can also work very quickly. I never said my first impulses were any good :D

Re: Science confirms "sweet" connection between birds and hu

PostPosted: July 25th, 2016, 10:47 am
by BioWizard
Hey, I think your impulses are pretty darn good. You probably just don't spend as much time thinking about birds as I do. In all fairness, I think very few people do :]

Re: Science confirms "sweet" connection between birds and hu

PostPosted: July 25th, 2016, 10:59 am
by SciameriKen
BioWizard » Mon Jul 25, 2016 2:47 pm wrote:Hey, I think your impulses are pretty darn good. You probably just don't spend as much time thinking about birds as I do. In all fairness, I think very few people do :]


For having such small little heads they are incredibly smart - I remember playing games with the birds at the pet store with my little guy :)

Re: Science confirms "sweet" connection between birds and hu

PostPosted: July 26th, 2016, 7:15 pm
by Paralith
In what appears to be the result of selective pressure for both intelligence and flight (low weight), birds have evolved miniaturized neurons that are densely packed into their brains, enabling some bird species to have as many or more neurons than some primates. This falls nicely in line with all the recent research that points to absolute number of neurons in the forebrain being strongly correlated with intelligence.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/artic ... -primates/

Re: Science confirms "sweet" connection between birds and hu

PostPosted: July 26th, 2016, 7:37 pm
by Lomax
That's "bird-brain" out of the vocabulary, then.

Re: Science confirms "sweet" connection between birds and hu

PostPosted: July 26th, 2016, 8:08 pm
by TheVat
When I started reading of research into Corvid intelligence a few years ago, it didn't surprise me to learn how smart they are. When a raven or crow looks at you, you have the feeling of an intelligent presence regarding you. The neuronal density findings make me think of a sort of natural selection version of Moore's Law. A complex social and 3-dimensional spatial environment driving miniaturization, because cranial size and mass can't increase. I have to wonder if humans might ever meet with such selective pressures....say, a catastrophe that put high demands on intelligence but also the capacity to thrive on a lower protein diet. Could we someday evolve into smart pinheads? :-)