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Many bird species are capable of learning new vocalizations and using them to communicate, a process known as vocal learning. But scientists have wondered whether those with the best vocal learning skills are also the most intelligent.
Now, a research team discovered there is a correlation between avian vocal learning and problem-solving, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
For their study, they conducted a series of tests on 214 individual songbirds representing 23 different species.
They tested various cognitive abilities, such as problem-solving, self-control, and associative learning. For instance, problem-solving tasks involved retrieving treats by removing lids or piercing foil, while self-control required navigating around barriers for food. They also examined the avian’s ability to adapt to color changes linked to snacks.
Their findings showed a strong link between vocal learning and the ability to solve problems, specifically in species with broader vocal ranges, lifelong vocal learning, and mimicry capabilities.
Three species stood out from the large sample: starlings, blue jays, and gray catbirds.
These birds – known for their advanced vocal learning abilities and mimicry – performed exceptionally well in both vocalization and problem-solving.
The study suggests that vocal learning, problem-solving, and brain sizes evolved together. Even so, the team has yet to determine how all these abilities work in bird brains.
“Our next step is to look at the brains of the most complex species and try to understand why they are better at problem-solving and vocal learning,” study co-author Jean-Nicolas Audet said in a statement.