Since moving to our new house a little over three years ago, my wife and I have begun to love watching birds. We’re not serious about the hobby — we just dabble in it. We’ll stand at the kitchen counter and watch the jays, crows, pigeons, starlings, flickers, nuthatches, and more, as they go about their business in the yard.
From even casual observation it’s clear that each species has its own personality. The flickers seem to be pair-oriented — we wonder if maybe they bond for life? The pigeons are big, dumb eating machines. The starlings are bossy, but not nearly as bossy as the jays. The jays — which are plentiful in our yard — provide hours of entertainment. They’re full of personality. And they’re smart.
According to research presented a couple of years ago (but just unearthed through my internet ramblings), crows and jays top the bird IQ scale:
The avian intelligence index is based on 2,000 reports of feeding “innovations” observed in the wild and published in ornithology journals over a period of 75 years.
“We gathered as many examples as we could from the short notes of ornithology journals about the feeding behaviours that people had never seen or were unusual,” said Dr Lefebvre, of McGill University in Montreal, Canada.
“From that we established different numbers for different birds. There are differences. There are some kinds of birds that score higher than others. The crows, the jays, that kind of bird — the corvidae — are the tops; then the falcons are second, the hawks the herons and the woodpecker rank quite high.”
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.
I’m constantly amazed that a jay will come flitting into the yard, lift up a leaf, and voila! there is a peanut it left for itself some time ago.