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The Kid Should See This

“Are magpies scary or scary smart?” An experiment tests their proactive nature

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Australian magpies (Gymnorhina tibicen) are known across Australia for being clever, mischievous, and vigilant in ways that can be aggressive. These street-smart songbirds can recognize dozens of human faces, are territorial, and thrive across “nearly 90% of mainland Australia” thanks to their willingness to try new things in search of food.

In this ABC Science Catalyst video, a clip from The Secret Lives Of Our Urban Birds, the magpie’s proactive nature is tested with an experiment in which magpies pick a yellow or blue cap to find food.

a magpie up close
Nature journalist Dr. Ann Jones talks with ecologist Dr. Farley Connelly, who explains:

“So we want to know, you can they make an association and so we want to see if it can associate food with a colour and then can it repeat that, and repeat that, and repeat that. And so we are going for can it do it 10 times in a row. Yes, so that way we know it is consistent and that it is learning it, versus just happenstance.”

birds exploring
Once the magpie associates food with the yellow cap, Farley tests how quickly it responds to change by placing the food under the blue cap. How quickly can this curious urban bird adapt?

yellow cap
Learn more about magpies with The Australian Museum.
Watch Litter for food: Teaching wild magpies to recycle.

Plus: The ultimate problem solvers? A wild crow solves a puzzle in 8 parts.

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