Cockatoos have shown themselves to be as smart as apes or four-year old humans, a new study reveals.
A team of international Scientists tested eight Goffin cockatoos (Cacatua goffini), a conspicuously inquisitive and playful species on visible as well as invisible Piagetian object displacements and derivations of spatial transposition, rotation and translocation tasks.
Birgit Szabo, one of the experimenters from the University of Vienna, said that the majority of the eight birds readily and spontaneously solved Transposition, Rotation and Translocation tasks whereas only two out of eight choose immediately and reliably the correct location in the original Piagetian invisible displacement task in which a smaller cup is visiting two of three bigger screens.
Alice Auersperg, the manager of the Goffin Lab who was also one of the experimenters, said that interestingly and just opposite to human toddlers the cockatoos had more problems solving the Piagetian invisible displacements than the transposition task with which children struggle until the age of four.
She said that transpositions are highly demanding in terms of attention since two occluding objects are moved simultaneously. Nevertheless, in contrast to apes, which find single swaps easier than double the cockatoos perform equally in both conditions.
Similarly, Goffins had little complications with Rotations and Translocation tasks and some of them solved them at four different angles. Again, in contrast to children, which find Translocations easier than Rotations, the cockatoos showed no significant differences between the two tasks.
Auguste von Bayern from the University of Oxford said that they assumed that the ability to fly and prey upon or being preyed upon from the air is likely to require pronounced spatial rotation abilities and may be a candidate trait influencing the animals' performance in rotation and translocation tasks.
Thomas Bugnayer from the University of Vienna added that finding that Goffins solve transposition, rotation and translocation tasks, which are likely to pose a large cognitive load on working memory, was surprising and calls for more comparative data in order to better understand the relevance of such accurate tracking abilities in terms of ecology and sociality.
The finding has been published in Journal of Comparative Psychology.