Are Goffin’s cockatoos smart enough to hold out for a bigger, better treat? You can bet a bag of peanuts that they are, and now we have scientific evidence of their intelligence and self-control from a new study performed at the University of Vienna and published today in Biology Letters.
According to the team headed up by Alice Auersperg, few non-human animals have the self-control to stop themselves from eating food immediately, even if they’re trained to understand that if they wait, they might be able to exchange it for something better. Heck, considering the growing problem of junk food addiction these days, some people would argue that even humans can’t wait. Be that as it may, earlier studies have showed that some primates, crows, and ravens can pass the test, with some of the wily corvids being perfectly capable of waiting up to five minutes to exchange a treat for an upgrade.
What’s new is that no one had proved that parrots had the self-control to do the same. Now, the Goffin’s weren’t patient enough to tap their toes and wait a whole five minutes to negotiate a swap — they are cockatoos, after all — but they were willing and able to hold out for up to 80 seconds to see if their personal human would swap the treat for something bigger or better.
Some people might say that Auersperg’s Vienna Goffin Lab is proving what cockatoo owners have known all along. Goffin’s aren’t the biggest, the prettiest, or the most colorful, but they’ve got brains and personality coming out of their ears. A small, playful species from the Tanimbar Islands of Indonesia, they’re intelligent, playful, and far easier to handle than some of the larger species.
Here’s a photo of a Goffin’s cockatoo hard at work in the Goffin lab, courtesy of Alice Auersberg. It looks like a real chore, trying to decide whether to eat the delicious treat in the hand or hold out for the goodie in the bush. Auersperg has said that the self-control of the cockatoos was particularly impressive because they don’t put down the food they intend to swap like a crow does. They have to hold it in their bill while they’re waiting — an almost unbelievable temptation.
Laboratory cockatoos aren’t the only smart, charming specimens. You could lose a whole day checking You Tube for cute Goffin’s Cockatoo videos. Here’s an adorable one playing with a kitten, but please be aware that we do not recommend that you allow any parrot to play with a cat.
And here’s a talking Goffin’s cockatoo.
Were you surprised to learn that Goffin’s cockatoos were so smart?
[top photo courtesy Lip Kee Yap and Wikipedia Commons]