A recent experiment showed that parrots seem considerably enriched by the ability to video call other parrots. It’s important that the activity be done in a healthy and ethical way, so researchers do not recommend bird caretakers immediately slap a spare tablet in front of every bird — but the results are as heartwarming as they are encouraging.
Parrots are intelligent creatures known to require and benefit from intellectual and emotional stimulation, and their eyesight is such that they are able to use a display like a tablet screen much like a human would. They are also social creatures, and that led to researchers designing a pilot study to explore a parrot-to-parrot videoconferencing system.
The three-month study showed that when given the opportunity to initiate and receive video calls, every single parrot in the test group did so and all bird caretakers reported perceived benefits. Birds made friends, seemed highly motivated, and even learned behaviors by watching others.
Curious about the details? The published results (a PDF and two brief videos) covers all the bases. Parrot pals may also remember another time that technology enriched a feathered friend with a motorized buggy complete with beak-compatible joystick for steering.
Montana, rightfully nicknamed the big sky country, is a beautiful state with abundant wide open landscapes, mountains, and wildlife. It’s a fantastic place to visit or live, but if you happen to reside in the city of Butte, that amazing Montana landscape is marred by the remnants of an enormous open pit mine. Not only is it an eyesore, but the water that has filled the pit is deadly to any bird that lands there. As a result, a group of people have taken to some ingenious methods to deter birds from landing in the man-made toxic lake for too long.
When they first started, the only tool they had available was a rifle. Scaring birds this way is not the most effective way for all species, though, so lately they have been turning to other tools. One of which is a custom boat built on a foam bodyboard which uses a plethora of 3D printed parts and sensors to allow the operator to remotely pilot the boat on the toxic lake. The team also has a drone to scare birds away, plus an array of other tools like high-powered lasers, propane cannons, and various scopes in order to put together the most effective response to help save wildlife.
While this strategy runs the gamut of the tools most commonly featured here, from 3D printers to drones to lasers, the only thing that’s missing is some automation like we have seen with other drone boat builds we’ve featured in the past. It takes quite a bit of time to continually scare birds off this lake, even through the winter, so every bit of help the team can get could go even further.
Continue reading “Saving Birds With 3D Printed Boats”
Over in the Swedish city of Södertälje, about 30 km southwest of Stockholm, a pilot program is being explored which will enlist crows to clean up discarded cigarette butts. Butts account for over 60% of litter in Sweden, and the per-butt cleanup cost falls between 0.8 and 2 Swedish kronor each. The company behind the project, Corvid Cleaning, estimates the cost will be around 0.2 kronor. If the birds picked up all the butts, that would be a substantial savings, but in reality, the current manual cleaning will still be needed. Total savings to the city will depend on the ratio of bird-collected vs. people-collected butts. Of course, if people would throw their butts in ashcans or carry pocket ashtrays like those popular in Japan, this would be a non-starter.
Crows were selected because they are considered one of the most intelligent bird — they’re easy to teach, and they communicate with each other. All crows participating in the project are volunteers, and are paid by the butt with a morsel of food dispensed from a machine. We’re reminded of B. F. Skinner’s pigeon-guided missile projects from the 40s and 50s, although cleaning up litter for food should result in a happier outcome for all parties concerned.
This kind of project has been tried before, for example, in a French park back in 2018. And we covered a 2020 project by [Hans] who was training magpies to do similar duty. Are you aware of any of these projects that went past the pilot phase and are in operation? Let us know in the comments below.
Jerry Seinfeld launched his career with Bee Movie, an insect-themed animated feature that took the world by storm in 2007. It posed the quandary – that supposedly, according to all known laws of aviation, bees should not be able to fly. Despite this, the bee flies anyway, because bees don’t care what humans think is impossible.
The quote isn’t easily attributed to anyone in particular, but is a cautionary tale about making the wrong assumptions in an engineering context. Yes, if you model a bee using the same maths as an airliner, of course you’ll find that it shouldn’t be able to fly. Its tiny wings can’t possibly generate enough lift to get its body off the ground. But that’s because the assumption is an erroneous one – because bees don’t fly in the same way planes do. Bees flap their wings. But that’s just the beginning. The truth is altogether more complex and interesting! Continue reading “Flapping Wings And The Science Of How Bees Can Fly”
Of all the things evolution has stumbled across, the eye is one of the most remarkable. Acting as sort of a ‘biological electromagnetic transducer’, the eye converts incoming photons into electrical and chemical spikes, known as action potentials. These spikes then drive the brain of the host life form. Billions of years of natural selection has produced several types of eyes, with some better than others. It would be an honest mistake to think that the human eye is at the top of the food chain, as this is not the case. Mammals underwent a long stint scurrying around in dark caves and crevasses, causing our eyes to take a back seat to other more important functions, such as the development of a cortex.
There are color sensitive cones in all eyes. Mammals have three types of cones, which are…wait for it…Red, Blue and Green. Our red and green cones are relatively recent on the evolutionary timescale – appearing about 30 million years ago.
The way these cones are distributed around our eyes is not perfect. They’re scattered around in lumpy, uneven patterns, and thus give us an uneven light sampling of our world. Evolution simply has not had enough time to optimize our eyes.
There is another animal on this planet, however, that never went through “the dark ages” as mammals did. This animal has been soaring high above its predators for over 60 million years, allowing its eyes to reach the pinnacle of the natural selection process. A bald eagle can spot a mouse from over a mile away. Birds eyes have 5 types of light sensitive cones – red, blue and green like our own. But add in violet and a type of cone that can detect no light, or black. But it is the way these cones are distributed around the bird’s eye that is most fascinating, and the subject of today’s article.
Continue reading “Hyperuniformity — A Hidden Order Found In The Greatest Set Of Eyes”