Can you teach an old parrot new tricks? Cognitive development in wild kaka (Nestor meridionalis) (#281)
Innovations and problem-solving skills in the foraging context have often been argued to be key factors in the evolution of intelligence. Large-brained species such as parrots frequently perform well in tasks requiring such skills. Here we investigate the ontogenetic development of the ability to solve a novel foraging problem in a forest-dwelling, omnivorous parrot species, the New Zealand kaka. We tested more than 88 wild kaka ranging in age from 17 weeks to 13 years in a task that required them to pull out a wooden block from underneath a treadle in order to be able to operate a feeder in its usual way. Surprisingly, juvenile kaka less than 10 month old were the most efficient problem solvers and success rate decreased with age. No kaka over 3 years of age was able to solve this problem. Furthermore, juvenile kaka pulled the block out in their first to fourth trial whereas it took the subadults up to 11 trials to be successful. Our results suggest that young kaka are more explorative and persistent than adults. These traits may be particularly beneficial to young kaka, helping them to learn about their environment and discover new strategies to obtain food as they acquire their foraging skills into adulthood.