At the University of Vienna, Muppet, Pippin and other cockatoos were presented with a box that had a transparent door through which each of them could see a tasty-looking nut. The door, however, had a latch that had to be shifted; the latch could only be moved after a wheel had been turned; the wheel could only be turned after a bolt had been moved; but the bolt had a screw that had to be taken out first; and to get the screw out you had to remove a pin.
Pippin figured it out in two hours. Some of the others, who couldn’t figure it out on their own, found it very easy after watching someone else do it. Here’s Muppet in action:
Dr. Alice Auersperg, who led the study, said that she then tried changing some of the locks. “We confronted six subjects with so-called ‘transfer tasks’ in which some locks were re-ordered, removed, or made non-functional. Statistical analysis showed that they reacted to the changes with immediate sensitivity to the novel situation.”
What does it all tell us? Professor Alex Kacelnik of Oxford University’s Department of Zoology said: “We cannot prove that the birds understand the physical structure of the problem as an adult human would, but we can infer from their behavior that they are sensitive to how objects act on each other, and that they can learn to progress towards a distant goal without being rewarded step-by-step.”
In other words, they’re pretty smart.