Magpies in Oz outwit scientists

Smarter than the average undergrad?

Australian magpies that were attached with tiny, backpack-like tracking devices for a study showed “seemingly altruistic behavior” by helping each other remove the tracker, according to a new finding that has left scientists stunned.

The research, published last week in the journal Australian Field Ornithology, showed one of the first evidences of cooperative “rescue” in birds – a behavior in which an individual Australian magpie, Gymnorhina tibicen, helped another member of the group without getting an immediate, tangible reward.

Study lead author Dominique Potvin from the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia wrote in The Conversation: Our goal was to learn more about the movement and social dynamics of these highly intelligent birds, and to test these new, durable and reusable devices. Instead, the birds outsmarted us. …

Within 10 minutes of fitting the final tracker, scientists witnessed an adult female without a tracker working with her bill to try and remove the harness off of a younger bird. They said they did not expect the birds to target the specific weakness in the harness and quickly team up to rid the device off each other as a group.

Now, what we need is a comparable study with magpies in my neck of the Southwestern prairie. See if response is similar throughout varieties of the species. Or is it the water in Oz?