The Cognitive Skills of Oriental Pied Hornbills

The Cognitive Skills of Oriental Pied Hornbills

The ability to understand object permanence, the concept that objects still exist even when they are out of sight, is a skill that is not commonly found in the animal kingdom. However, a recent study has confirmed that Oriental pied hornbills (Anthracoceros albirostris) are one of the few animal species with an advanced understanding of this concept. This skill is particularly useful for nesting females who seal themselves out of sight in tree hollows, relying on their mate to bring them food. Female Oriental pied hornbills use a variety of materials such as mud, poop, saliva, fruit, and bark to create a barrier in their refuge, leaving only a narrow slit for the males to deliver food. This requires the male hornbills to understand that their mate still exists even when they cannot see them.

Researchers Ruitong Yao and Elias Garcia-Pelegrin from the National University of Singapore conducted a study to test the object permanence skills of Oriental pied hornbills. They taught six of these birds to indicate the location of a visible treat with a peck and then tested them with a series of challenges that increased in difficulty. The birds were able to demonstrate an understanding of visible displacement by indicating the cup where the treat ended up after being moved. Furthermore, three of the hornbills were able to pass the most challenging stage – invisible displacement – where the treat was hidden under a red box and then moved to a larger cup without direct visibility of the movement. These birds were able to infer that the treat must be under the final cup, showcasing their advanced cognitive abilities.

The researchers’ findings suggest that Oriental pied hornbills possess cognitive abilities comparable to those of apes – a revelation that sets them apart from other bird species. While previously only corvids and parrots were known to possess such advanced object permanence skills, the study indicates that hornbills may also belong in this category. Moreover, the study hints at the possibility that breeding experience may play a role in the development of these cognitive skills, as birds with no breeding experience struggled to reach the highest level of object permanence.

Future Research Directions

The study opens up a new avenue of research into the cognitive abilities of Oriental pied hornbills. Further studies are needed to investigate whether these birds possess other cognitive skills that rival those of corvids and parrots. Understanding the extent of their cognitive abilities could shed light on the evolutionary history of these birds and provide insights into the factors that drive the development of advanced cognitive skills in the animal kingdom.

The study on the object permanence skills of Oriental pied hornbills reveals that these birds possess impressive cognitive abilities that were previously only associated with primates. The findings of this research pave the way for further exploration into the cognitive abilities of this bird species and the factors that contribute to the development of such advanced skills.


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