The smarts pecking order is based not on a single bird-in-cage test, but on 2,000 reports of feeding innovations that have been observed in the wild and published in the world's ornithology journals.
"Initially, quite honestly, I didn't think it would work," says Dr. Lefebvre, an animal behaviourist at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, who first reported the bird bell curve system in 1997. "Scientists don't like anecdotal evidence. So if you're wary of one anecdote, why would you expect to find a valid pattern in 2,000? I've been waiting for something to come up that would invalidate the system, but nothing has."
The biologist, whose work is supported by Science and Engineering Research Canada (NSERC), will present his latest findings at the 2005 American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Washington D.C. on February 21.
The IQ index draws its strength from the world's legions of avid bird watchers. Professional and amateur birders alike report unusual sightings to refereed ornithology journals, such as the Wilson Bulletin in the U.S. and British Birds. These observations are published as "short notes." Dr. Lefebvre's innovation index uses short notes from 1930 to the present as the basis for counting the number of innovative feeding behaviours observed in the wild for particular groups of birds.
These bird-brained feeding feats are definitely clever. One of the most famous is the 1949 report of tits in England who learned to open milk bottles left on the stoop. Or there's the brown skua, an Antarctic bird that parasitizes nursing mo
Contact: Dr. Louis Lefebvre
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council