Nearly everyone in Australia is familiar with sulphur-crested cockatoos. They’re funny birds, curious and cheeky. They certainly enjoy taunting my cat.
But aside from all these things, it turns out they are also special because they can learn from one another.
For a long time people thought we were the only creatures capable of culture and social learning, but over time chimpanzees, humpback whales (and others) have been shown to be able to do it too.
Now, a population of cockies in southern Sydney has been shown to do the same, the first record of parrots doing so.
After the wheelie bins are put out for collection each week, the cockies come and open them to search for food. This in itself is pretty clever (but we’ve seen this sort of thing in Canberra for years) but what’s better is that other birds started copying the behaviour.
Thanks to hundreds of reports from ordinary folks right across Sydney, this behaviour has been spotted in neighbouring suburbs over several years. Some populations have variations on the style of opening, and these become increasingly different between suburbs that are further apart.
This is a fantastic example of citizen science, and there are lots of projects people can participate in.
One is the Big City Birds research project. This app is used to learn about nesting, foraging, nocturnal roosts, and adaptive behaviours of birds across Australia (and not just in the big cities). Each October there’s the Aussie Backyard Bird Count.
It even helps to share any interesting observations through social media, an indirect way to inform scientific research. To help out, you can tag @Big_City_Birds or use #BigCityBirds.
I spoke about this story with Danny Hoyland at West Bremer Radio on 31 July. Listen each week: Saturday 7.40 am, West Bremer Radio.