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A Whistle Brings Hungry Chickens To Attention

Lea Lomas

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Bird Brain Size 

Are birds intelligent or stupid?  There is some scientific evidence based on the structure of birds’ brains that birds are more than just feathers stuck on their bodies.  The evidence initially focuses on the cerebral cortex, that birds lack.  The cerebral cortex plays an essential role in language, thought, memory,  awareness,  consciousness, and perception.  Thus, the cerebral cortex is vital in higher thinking, which explains the reason why some scientists reasoned that birds were simply dumb.  

Bird Intelligence

Scientists discovered another part of the bird’s brain named the pallium, which may function similarly to the cerebral cortex. The length of the nerve connections is shorter between sections of a bird’s brain than mammals, which is reasoned to mean that birds can process information rapidly.  Do these specialized parts of a bird’s brain mean that a bird is capable of possessing some level of intelligence?  Jane Goodall accomplished the landmark behavioral investigation concerning animal intelligence in her classic study of intelligence in the chimpanzee.  Some birds have shown indicators of intelligence, such as the ability to mimic speech, and some birds have complex social situations such as the vulturine guinea fowl of eastern Africa, which have tiny heads and brains.  Further, a one-day-old chick can tell the difference between objects. 

How Do Birds Learn?

Just because birds can imitate a person’s words, does that mean they understand what the words mean? Birds, other than parrots, can imitate what a person is saying to them, such as Budgies, crows, Indian Ringneck Parakeets,  Cockatiels, and ravens but do not necessarily understand what they are saying. If a bird understood what words they were repeating, you could carry on a conversation with them, which would represent a permanent change in its behavior because learning has taken place.  

Operant Conditioning

You can tell that a person or animal has learned by observing their behavior, which is represented by their ability to acquire information, skills, and knowledge.  Animals have limited abilities to learn because of their lack of intellectual capacity.  However, animals can show learning behavior using techniques referred to as behavioral conditioning or more accurately Operant Conditioning.  The common phrase that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink is not always true when applying operant conditioning techniques.  

Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist, studied a method of learning which involved dogs.  He observed that when a dog was near food, it would salivate.  The experimenter was wearing a white coat when the dog was near the food.  Pavlov noted that when the dogs saw the white coat, it would salivate even when the food was not present, thereby associating food with a white coat without the presence of food.  In another experiment, Pavlov rang a bell in the presence of food, and the dog would naturally salivate because of the food.  However, when the food was taken away, and the bell would be latter rung, the dog would still salivate.   The dog learned to salivate when the bell rang.  This behavior is referred to as classical conditioning, which is a type of learning through the formation of associations.  These experiments were a breakthrough in animal learning behavior, proving that animals could learn.

A Whistle Brings Hungry Chickens To Attention

Operant conditioning has other applications in moving a flock of chickens, especially if you are a chicken farmer applying the classical Pavlovian experiment.  It is commonly known the chickens love to eat, especially grains. If you want your chickens to move from one place to another, you can associate the sound of a whistle with eating grains in the same manner that the Pavlov associated the sound of a bell with the salivation of dogs to food.  The experiment is straightforward.  You can present a good quantity of grains to very hungry chickens while blowing a whistle.  Then you would take the food away, leaving hungry chickens very hungry.  You would make this association with the whistle, the chickens, and the grain several times and then remove the grain and walk far enough away from the chickens, so they do not see you while you place the grain on the ground. What do you think could happen when you blew the whistle in the direction of very hungry chickens?  Make sure you duck out of the way.

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Animals

Dogs Demonstrate Ability to Detect COVID-19 With Impressive Accuracy

Lea Lomas

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They say dogs are a man’s best friend, and millions of pet owners around the world would agree. There are about 90 million pet dogs in the U.S. alone, and these beloved canines brighten people’s days, especially during the continued uncertainty and isolation surrounding the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. 

There’s no doubt that the pandemic resulted in the complete upheaval of daily life right around the globe, with scientists racing to find a vaccine and treatments that work. The virus has infected more than 18,000,000 people globally with nearly 700,000 deaths thus far according to the John Hopkins University of Medicine. What makes the virus so complicated is that people can be infectious before they show symptoms, and some may have the virus and recover with no symptoms at all. 

As countries continue to look at testing and treatment options, some new heroes are emerging in the fight against COVID-19, and that’s none other than the dogs humans love so much. Research from University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover shows that dogs can be taught to sniff out the virus with an unprecedented 94% accuracy rating.

This isn’t the first time the incredible intelligence and ability of dogs has made a difference to humans. With as many as 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, dogs have been used to sniff out missing people, criminals, drugs, bombs and much more, although their COVID-19 detection capabilities may prove to be some of the most important of all. 

As the virus continues to spread and wreak havoc on communities across every continent, the need for strong testing and detection isn’t going away anytime soon, which explains why the results of the dog study were so exciting. The researchers took saliva samples from upwards of 1,000 people, some who have confirmed COVID-19 cases and others who were not infected and had no history of respiratory problems or disease. The dogs came from German armed forces and were introduced to the samples using a randomized process. 

Within five days, the research team had successfully trained the dogs to identify the infected samples with a 94% accuracy level. The researchers believe COVID-19 generates a metabolic change in the human body that dogs can recognize even if people cannot. 

With a sense of smell 1,000 times stronger and more sensitive than humans, dogs have the potential to make a massive difference in medical detection by separating infected and non-infected individuals. A similar study by Medical Detection Dogs in the U.K. demonstrated the canine ability to detect humans carrying malaria, a mosquito-borne illness that kills thousands every year. 

Now, more studies are being conducted to explore canine COVID-19 detection and how it could be implemented in airports and other busy places, especially as countries look to get air travel back up and running. British researchers have given dogs face masks worn by humans instead of saliva to confirm if they can detect the disease from those surfaces while taking precautions to keep the virus from spreading to the dogs. 

It’s believed each detector dog could screen as many as 250 people each hour, with the results available immediately, especially for asymptomatic people who may not raise any concerns with a temperature or symptom screening checking. By isolating the infected people from the greater community, hopefully, disease transmission will decline and hard-hit industries will be able to get back up and running, with the support and reassurance of highly trained and hardworking dogs.

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Animals

The Victoria Crowned Pigeon is as Graceful as its Queen

Leslie Tander

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The old myth that pigeons are boring creatures and simply “rats with wings” is far from truthful. The pigeons most of us are aware of are of the gray, noisy, overpopulated, French fry-stealing North American variant. However, that does not mean every pigeon on earth is a big pain in the behind.

This also does not mean that every pigeon is gray and boring. There are 344 species in the pigeon and dove family on Earth with variety being the key factor.

The largest species of the 344 is the Victoria Crowned Pigeon which is indigenous to and around Northern New Guinea. In the images you have seen of this majestic bird, it is difficult to see the true scale of the creature.

An average adult is 28-30-inches in length (head-to-tail) which is the same size as a female turkey. Some birds exceed 31-inches in length and maintain a weight of around 7.7-pounds. Overall, it is marginally larger than the two other species of crowned pigeons and is considered the largest on Earth.

The bird features a feathery, royal blue color with a stunning crest that screams royalty, hence the name Victoria Crowned Pigeon. The eyes are piercing and fiery red indicating that if this pigeon were human, it would scream, “Off with his head!”

With many species of birds, the males and females have a different look to indicate their sex. However, the male and female Victoria Crowned Pigeons are the same for both sexes. While the males grow only slightly larger than the females, the only true way to know the sex of a bird is through surgery.

This pigeon species is one of four unique genus birds that are large, ground-dwelling, and easily recognizable by the white tips on the crests and the deep whooping sounds it makes when communicating.

During mating, the species makes a deep hoota-hoota-hoota sound and when defending its territory, the pigeon makes a whup-up, whup-up, whup-up call.

The Victoria Crowned Pigeon is a foraging and terrestrial bird that flies only when necessary. During a flight, this pigeon species make a loud clapping sound. This bird digs into the jungle floor searching for fallen insects, fruit, and seeds.

Typically, the bird is found throughout lowlands and swamp forests, especially on the Alluvial Plains. Most are found at sea level, due to the food options, occasionally they venture into the hills to a maximum elevation of 3,000-feet. Each day, the Victoria Crowned Pigeon makes a trek from sea to a tree.

Much like other crowned pigeons, the Victoria is a social species that travel in small parties while slowly walking across the forest floor in search of food. When disturbed during their search, these birds fly vertically into the canopy or onto a large branch. They often remain here for considerable periods while flicking their tails and communicating contact calls.

Like most animals, males engaged in aggressive exhibitions of dominance which involves puffing their chests and rapidly raising their wings as if in attack preparation. Often, they make short strikes at one but rarely making contact and are typically peaceful outside of the early mating season.

Mating occurs during the late wet season and through the dry season. The male displays for the female by lowering his head, stretching forward, and rhythmically swinging his head up and down while shaking his fanned tail.

While the female lays a single egg, which is incubated in about 30-days, both parents work together to raise the young.

Sadly, as deforestation continues to occur in rainforest nations, their habitats are disappearing causing a rapid decline in the population. As of 2020, the species has reached a “Near Threatened” status.

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Animals

Shark Surprises Surfer With Painful Mark and Scary Memory

Mackenzie Freeman

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Millions of people around the world would say they are scared of sharks, and stories of attacks on surfers can heighten that anxiety.

Although humans out for a swim or surf are in sharks’ natural territory, anytime a shark strikes, it generates a lot of media attention. There’s even a term for the uncontrollable fear of sharks, which is known as galeophobia. Every year, the International Shark Attack File investigates interactions between sharks and humans, and 2019 saw 64 confirmed unprovoked shark attacks on people and 41 provoked incidents.

Such small numbers prove the point that shark attacks are extremely rare, however for those involved, it’s something they will never forget. In these isolated instances, it’s believed the sharks mistake humans for prey. One Australian surfer has learned the hard way about unprovoked shark attacks after a great white shark sailed out of the water and took a chunk out of his surfboard and his leg.

Bunker Bay off the coast of Western Australia is a popular surfing spot, and that’s where Phil Mummert was catching waves last month. As reported by 9 News, he was relaxing on his board taking a quick breather when a fellow surfer yelled out the dreaded words that a shark was fast approaching.

Unfortunately, it was too late, with a massive 16-foot great white shark jumping out of the water and slamming into Mummert in full force. The seasoned surfer, aged in his 20s, remained conscious throughout the terrifying ordeal as the shark grabbed hold of his upper leg. This behavior is known as breaching, and the Smithsonian reports that it’s a way for them to slow down prey that otherwise may swim too quickly for them.

Despite the sudden trauma, Mummert remained relatively composed as fellow surfers rushed to his aid. With his board destroyed by the shark’s razor-sharp teeth, Mummert was hoisted onto another surfer’s nine-foot board as a large group came together to get back to shore for immediate medical attention.

Miraculously, first responders at the scene worked to stem the bleeding to Mummert’s leg and determined that, although his injuries were serious, they were not life-threatening. Some of the gashes on his leg were six inches long and required stitches, but thankfully the attack did not sever any major arteries. He was transported via helicopter to a local hospital while authorities in the area closed the beach and searched for the shark.

Mummert and his loved ones expressed their gratitude for all those who assisted, even in the presence of a deadly predator. His partner Mish Wright took to social media to share her admiration and appreciation for the people who saved his life.

Mummert is not the first to suffer a shark attack this season. As Australia grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, the surf-loving nation has seen several shark fatalities in recent months. There were four shark attacks in the span of five weeks, three of them fatal, with researchers linking the uptick in activity with whales making their annual migration north and sharks following in their wake. Great white sharks and other large species feed off whales when they die.

A man was killed after a shark attack off the coast of Fraser Island in Queensland while spearfishing at the start of July, and there was another fatal attack by a great white at Kingscliff in NSW. Just weeks before Mummert was attacked, a teen surfer lost his life after a shark bit him at Wooli Beach near Coffs Harbour, NSW.

Mummert and the million of other surfers in Australia have to watch out for sharks in their natural habitats, as even at beaches where there are shark nets in place, they are often surfing too far out past the barrier where sharks may frequent. That’s why it’s important to be vigilant and respectful of the marine life, and always swim or surf with others just in case.

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