Clever Animals

There are many instances that show birds and animals have innate intelligence.

The thrush breaks open snail shells by hitting them against hard objects and sea birds do the same by dropping crustaceans from a height on to rocks below. As a boy roving the hills of Wales I once saw a raven lift a very small rabbit about 30ft into the air before dropping it, presumably to kill it. But the rabbit survived and took refuge in a nearby hedgerow.

In Zimbabwe we had a dog that let us know it wanted to come into the house by knocking on the front door. It would pick up a stone from the garden in its mouth and repeatedly throw it at the door with a flick of its head until it was let inside.

But one breeding season at the Retreat in Belize we saw something entirely new.

We had been feeding a pair of melodious blackbird with dry cat pellets. The pellets are small enough for the adult birds to swallow whole and they love them. They arrive on our veranda railing outside the front door three times a day calling loudly for their meals: at dawn, mid-day and late afternoon. Usually they pick up a dry cat pellet and turn it around a few times in their beaks before swallowing them.

Their nest is in a large tree opposite the house and when their chicks hatched their routine changed. They would pick up a dry pellet as usual but then immediately walk along the veranda decking to the dog’s water dish, hop on to the rim, and dip the pellet into the water to soften it. We surmised that the chicks cannot swallow the dry pellets. Clever birds! We are hoping the young will visit us when they can fly.

— H.A.E.

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