Physical and social cognition in New Caledonian crows
Human technological prowess is unrivaled across the animal kingdom, leading many researchers to ponder - why? To answer this question, a comparative approach is needed (as explained further in my opinion piece, here).
As featured on National Geographic's Explorer Journal, my collaborative research on New Caledonian crows - an island-living bird species that makes and uses a remarkable number of different types of foraging tools from plant material - teased apart aspects of how these birds understand the physical world around them, and whether social learning plays a role in their foraging ecology.
This work resulted in three publications, which showed:
1) When encountering a novel foraging scenario, New Caledonian crows use social information from 'informed' group members about where to find food - read the publication, here.
2) In a foraging context, New Caledonian crows can discriminate between functional and non-functional methods of obtaining food, based on the physical properties of the task - read the publication, here.
3) When dropping an object to obtain food, New Caledonian crows do not attend to the weight of that object; that is, show a causal understanding of force - read the publication, here.