Totally OT but funny

Justa bit of "fluff" - video of Cockatoo dancing - one of the funniest I've ever seen, even keeps pretty good time with the music...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1j_fxs8mUcQ

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Yep, clever blighters. Around here they tend to give up living with people and go back to the wild. There will often be a squawking mass of them, and the lead bird will often be shouting something like "who's a pretty boy then?" or "woof woof" if the dog is in the yard. The dog really hates that one - one day its going to get just a little bit too close to her and that will be that :-)
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That's funny ;)
When I lived in Monrovia, CA, there were feral conures, i think htey were Chreey-Headed COnures - a flock used to visit myneighbor's qumkwat <?SP?> every day. I put out water for 'em. What a riot! THey always put me into a good mood :)
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Well, I'm something of a Bird Nut, so I go for the bird stories.
I have a theory about this, tho' - people, including scientific types, are generally amazed that birds can be so smart (esp. psitticines and corvids, whcih can be slmost scary <g>), because the idea has always been that intelligence is a function of the ration between brain mass and body mass. Humans have a lot of brain mass in proportion to body mass, chimps and various dolphins (including Orcas) come next, and so on.
But my theory is that this rule fails with birds, because, having evolved to be specialized for flight, they do not have *redundancy*.
I got this idea from raising canaries, and saw what happened when a couple suffered strokes (yeah, i got them checked).
With humans, and some mammals, strokes can be survived because ther eis so much redundancy, so many parts of ht ebrain that aren't used a lot, that, if one part of the brain is destroyed, other parts can take over and restore much or even all of the lost function.
But birds cannot have redundancy, precisely *because* it leads to a heavy brain - their heads would become too heavy to support, or at least, tehy'd be off-balance during flight. I mean, they even evolved minimized sex orgnas, as an adaptation for flight.
Therefore, much as some humans have been known to literally lose half, or nearly half, their brains, and still function well, birds function with a non-redundant brain.
So, to put it one way, they can be "twice as smart" as one would otherwise expect, given their brain size, and the rations o fbrain mass to body mass.
That's my theory.
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Like an African Grey I met once who could talk - and curse, in three accents corresponding to its previous owners, recite numerous entire nursery rhymes, make meaningful comments on daily events. Sounded human - not parrot-like.
Minah birds easily learn to talk if they are hand-reared. I have noticed that the local variety (now something of a pest in Australia) will actually look right, left, right again before walking across a road.- pity it seems to be so hard for humans.
An outstanding native in this regard is the Australian Magpie, often thought to be a corvid, but apparently part of the Lark family. Eg they can recognise cars and associate them with humans. Car A appears, associated with human A, who is likely to start digging and watering (A my son the landscaper who used to bring stuff home, do a bit of afternoon digging, disturb insects, mice etc). So when his car appears the sentry bird sends out a call for all the others. Sons B & C will feed the Magpie chick on the verandah, and don't care if it makes a racket. Son A doesn't like the noise - so if son A is there, the parents make sure the chick keeps quiet.

Not sure that is the current view - don't we give more weight to synapses these days?

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My sister (lives in Sydney) has also related some interesting stories of clever (and mischevioyus ;) ) Australian birds.
Re: talking, the sound-imitation aspect is less surprising than it should be - birds seem to have superb sound-recognition; recall that Penguins can identify the call/voice of their specific mate even within teh din of thousands of braying individuals.
Songbirds are born with a basic sens of how their songs should go, but it's been shown that learnign plays a *vital* role in developing the song. And, in the world of canary-breeding, people who enter competitions for singing canaries (the American Singer being a specifc sort of cross between a traditional type of English canary with a loud voice but pleasing shape, and the Gareman HArtz Mountain and, IIRC, Dutch Waterslager type(s)), competitors know that any canary's song, and especially a champion singer's song, is much improved by playing melodic music, with Tchaikovsky's symphonic works, back when I was raising them at least, being a favorite.
IOW, just as with mammals, including humans, the *ability* to vocalize is inborn, but there has to be actual learning for communication to occur. One resualt is that geogrpahically-separated populations of songbir species develop different "dialects".
Anyway, going back to parrots/psitticines, vocalizations are a major foundation of flock cohesion, probably developed because parrots tend to dwell in forested areas where visibility is not always reliable (which is also why even tiny psitticines can be so *loud*).
Larger parrots also tend to mate for life. So "vocla bonding" is a genetic trait. What is far more fascinating is the reasoning capabilities of many birds, which can be almost creepy when it comes to corvids (especially ravens) and larger parrots (especially the African Grey). I'm not familiar with teh Australian Magpie, but in nature, niches are always exploited, so we should not be surprised that a lark- relative could fill the niche that corvids occupy on other continents ;)

(( Oops, I meant "ratio" - my typing is pathetic... ))

I think it depends upon the person. Some "scientists" are *so* obsessed with being anti-antrhopomorphizing that they refuse to go beyond seeing any/all animals as anything more than robots, and will simply deny (not prove wrong - simply insult) any results that might indicate otherwise. Some become ossified - at which point, they are no longer truely scientists, because a Scientist looks at results and data and evidence, even when they fly in the face of preferences and pet theories.
Also, I'm not sure that "synapses* is all that differnt from saying "brain size".
I'm convinced that a huge part of the "surprisingly" high, i.e. "mammalian", level of avian intellignce is a matter of mamallian redundancy (which is well-known) versus avian NON-redundancy (nto something I've ever read about anywhere, but based upon my observations of birds which suffered stroke or other brain injury).
I suppose different peopl ehave different fascinations, but one of my own far-too-numerous :( fascinations is with the biology, physiology, structure, and so on, of birds - in a way, it *all* comes down to structure - not only the skeleton and slek body-shapes, but also, brain structure, neurons, the "lock-and-key" shapes that molecules take, which in turn allows fo renzymatic functions and basically *all* biochemistry of living things. OK, for that matter, the structure of Electron Shells, which form the basis for atomic bonding and molecule formation...but that's a different "Kris Blitherfest" <LOL!>
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TOucans are also very messy, because they eat primarily fruit. Their poop is, well, impressive.
Not as bad as eagles, tho'. When I was volunteering at the raptor rescue'n'rehab place (back before returning home to the US), one of my tasks was cvleaning the "cages", which, for large birds, were basically 8'X8' rooms painted with enamel. Nothing quite like the poop of a huge bird that lives on fish...
After seeing, tho', how my "seed-eating" conure (sort-of the size of a cockatiel, but chunkier) ATTACKS rare-to-medium beefsteak, all I can say is that we're darn lucky that birds don't get bigger than they do... They're "cute" and "funny" because they're small, but if their ferocity was scaled up, we'd have, well, Tyrannosaours ;)
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http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/npws.nsf/Content/The+laughing+kookaburr a [link might wrap] World's largest kingfisher.

call - just as well he/she doesn't do it in the middle of the night ... Apparently the Kookaburra is very young in evolutionary terms - haven't been around that long. The dog classifies them as 'birds you don't mess with'. At the office they perch on the window-sill and give you a good talking to. Easy to take it as some sort of comment on you being there, until you realise they are having a go at themselves - solar reflective glass.
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"laughing" sessions can involve large numbers, spread over a wide area.

someone's digging or mowing in the yard.
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