Magpies beat biologists

Magpies and other living creatures are among the most intelligent animals on the planet. Even the ability of these birds to learn exceeds that of some primates. Other magpies and crows also recognize themselves in the mirror—something a dog can’t. That is, crows know who they are and therefore have some form of self-awareness. They share this trait with other animals we consider very intelligent: chimpanzees, dolphins, and elephants.

Australian biologists have now discovered another intelligent trait in magpies: altruism, or helping others without taking advantage of them. Biologists discovered them by chance. They wanted to study the behavior of the Australian magpie with a small transmitter that they attach to the animals through a harness. They have devised a new method that eliminates the need to retrieve tagged birds to read data from the tracker.

Biologists trained magpies to come to the feeding station. While the magpies eat, the tracker’s battery will be charged wirelessly, and the data will also be downloaded via Bluetooth. At the end of the investigation, they managed to remove the shield with a powerful magnet.

The researchers wanted to know where the magpies live, what daily patterns or schedules they follow and how age, gender and condition affect their activities. That was the intention. But in the end they didn’t collect any data using the high-tech transmitter. After all, magpies quickly figured out how to rid each other of this annoying device.

The magpie could not do it alone, he needed the help of one or two of this kind. That’s what the magpies did too: help each other. Just hours after researchers marked the last bird, the device was actually lost. Thus, promising channels can return to the treasury. However, it is precisely because of the “failure” that this experiment provides biologists with new insight.

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