TY2015: “Bird brained”

Joyce Barry – Mount Mercy College

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On starting the Transition Year course at BEES I had no idea of what I would be learning about. Throughout the week we had a chance to sample every discipline at the School of BEES. I was surprised to find that the range of topics covered stretched farther than I thought.

We were scheduled to do some bird ringing during our week, however inclement weather meant that this couldn’t take place. In lieu of this we had a lecture on bird behaviour, intelligence and bird ‘personality’. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it was by far my favourite part of the week.

This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it was by far my favourite part of the week.

In a short space of time the myth of birds being ‘bird brained’ was almost completely debunked. We watched clips of birds demonstrating what we would typically call ‘intelligent’ behaviour, ranging from association of colour with reward to pulling levers to release food.

One of the topics discussed was how some birds are fast responders and some are slow responders to their environment. Fast responders will fly around a new area and search all of it, whereas slow responders will perch in one spot and survey the area from there. Fast responders were typically the birds to figure out the lever or colour systems in order to access food.

Fast and slow responders also behaved differently in attack situations. While under attack fast responders always took flight in order to escape, while most times the slow responders froze in order to reduce risk or drawing attention to themselves. I found this extremely interesting as I am intrigued by animal behaviour, and in particular the area of ‘fight, flight or freeze’.

The most fascinating thing about this bird is how it must learn to make these noises.

Although these traits demonstrated a bird’s ability to do more than just sing, a clip of the lyre bird quickly proved that even birdsong is a complex neurological activity. This remarkable bird had a wide range of noises, including the sound of a camera and even a rather convincing chainsaw. The most fascinating thing about this bird is how it must learn to make these noises. As the bird tries to mimic the sound it must listen to the sound it is reproducing, and alter it until it sounds right.

I must admit that before this lecture I was sure I wouldn’t find it remotely interesting; I was certainly proved wrong. I was pleasantly surprised by the scope of the study of animal behaviour, and how many behaviours each individual of each species could demonstrate.

I would strongly recommend this week to any student who thinks they would like to go into the area of science because you never know what you might find an interest it.

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