A new study, published in Nature Communications, provides some interesting details about the Nestor notabilis, a New Zealand parrot also called “kea”.
Researchers have in fact discovered that this bird can predict the probability of an event occurring, a neurobiological characteristic that was seen only in humans and in some more evolved primates.
In fact, making predictions about an event is one of the characteristics in which humans are very good, as explained by the main author of the study, Amalia Bastos, PhD candidate at the University of Auckland.
The kea lives in the mountainous regions of South Island, New Zealand, an area where food is scarce. They are quite exploratory birds compared to many other species of parrots. In the course of the experiments organized by Bastos and colleagues, this clever bird has shown that it can predict the course of events by thinking only about a few clues.
The researchers showed the bird two jars containing black and orange tokens. The jars were transparent, so the bird could see the contents. The birds were then taught that black tokens could be exchanged for food.
Two researchers side by side pulled a token out of each jar with a closed hand and the bird had to touch one of the two closed hands trying to guess the presence of the black token to get the reward.
This means that the birds had to choose the jar that offered them the best chance to get a reward, also because the jars contained different amounts of black or orange tokens.
The birds were able to choose the hand that they thought was most likely to contain a black token depending on which jar the hand had taken the token from. In practice, the bird observed the colour ratios in the jars, imagined the quantities and made the most appropriate choice, thus trying to predict the future.
The confirmation also came from another experiment when the bird had to choose between two researchers who took the tokens from the jars. The birds had previously observed one of the two researchers always taking black tokens even when the orange ones were outnumbered. The birds showed that they could remember who this person was and chose his hand.
The parrot showed that it could command different information from different sources in order to recreate a prediction of probability in the mind, something that surprised the researchers themselves and showed that such a characteristic, typical of human intelligence, can evolve even in such small brains.